22 October 2010

HR PRACTICE - A good risk management culture – an antidote for bullies

Bullying is considered to be any type of offensive or intimidating behaviour. It is an abuse of power with the intention to humiliate, undermine, injure or denigrate the other person. Whether it occurs in the playground or at the workplace, bullying can have a huge impact on the individuals concerned. While it can have tragic consequences on individuals, bullying can permanently damage businesses.

For an employee that has been exposed to bullying the impact can be devastating as the employee can suffer both social and mental health problems. Organisations also suffer hugely from bullying. Most will suffer from an increase in staff absenteeism, a decline in employees’ morale, a drop in productivity and an increase in staff turnover. Businesses might also incur additional costs associated with legal and workers’ compensation as well as management time addressing cases of workplace bullying. In addition, businesses will also suffer from having to incur further costs of retraining and it will eventually become harder for them to attract talent. Finally, organisations can incur fines under breaches of occupational health and safety laws.

Stephen Bonnici, HR Manager for Mizzi Organization stated: “Bullying can be costly to businesses. Some of the risks for organisations are losing talented and skilful employees, a reduction in productivity as well as incurring risks and costs associated with legal proceedings which might also affect the company’s reputation.”

Joe Gerada, CEO of FHRD said that he was called in by companies on a number of occasions to deal with such issues as managers would often either not have the training or the time to mediate in the situation. Such mediation is part and parcel of a risk management culture and in most situations the respective companies avoided some very embarrassing situations.

Hence, bullying is a huge financial risk to businesses. It can be considered to be part of a poor risk culture. Former Insurance Australia Group (IAG) chief risk officer Tony Coleman states: “It’s a culture where bosses tend not to want the hear bad news or the culture is to cover bad news up or a shoot-the-messenger type of culture.”

Hence, a poor risk culture dominates in organisations where bullying is ignored. If ignored long enough, the entire organisation is placed at risk, as it faces preventable trauma or litigation. According to a 2007 survey carried out by Utica, New York based market research firm Zogby International, 62 per cent of employers ignore the problem of bullying. Unfortunately, it is very much the case that when organisations ignore bullying they can also ignore other danger signals such as high turnover. Stephen M. Paskoff, a workplace consultant to global companies such as Coca-Cola and Nike, said: “Employers tend to ignore bullying particularly if it is someone who is a great performer.”

Furthermore, Paskoff argues that “even if the bully is a strong performer, the problem is that the behaviour loses clients and costs the company business. Or, in a health care setting, it can cost a life.”

Paskoff also commented on how organisations ignore behaviours such as bullying that are not clearly illegal.

Unfortunately, bullying in the workplace is very often subtle or hidden. Either way it does not mean that bullying does not exist. It is up to the employer to take the initiative and be proactive by developing the right culture and systems whereby it is able to identify whether bullying exists or whether it has the potential to exist within the organisation. Bonnici mentioned the systems that Mizzi Organisation has put in place to prevent and stop bullying from occurring within the business:

“We carry out performance appraisals, one-to-one meetings with employees, open discussions; we have appointed employee representatives to act as a medium to report on acts of bullying on behalf of the employees. We also have policies and procedures in place that clearly state that such behaviour is not tolerated. “

Joe Gerada CEO of FHRD said organisations need to ensure that they develop a good risk management culture that helps to identify and spot cases of bullying in the workplace. This includes creating an environment where intimidation is not tolerated. This needs to be formalized through the core values and employment guidelines, which help to minimize, if not eradicate bullying. Businesses need to have systems and structures in place that allow them to spot bullying happening and do something about it and make the management staff aware that it is being monitored. Employers need to make sure that they watch out for certain danger signals which can suggest that bullying is taking place such as complaints about stress and depression, high turnover, lots of sick leave, and absenteeism. It is also crucially important that a culture of trust and respect dominate within the organisation.

Businesses today cannot afford to turn a blind eye to bullying in the workplace. This is because demoralised workers will vote with their feet and bullying will probably cost thousands of euros in increased absenteeism, staff turnover as well as decreased productivity. Hence, bullying needs to be managed by identifying and solving the problem rather than by denying and ignoring it. Managing bullying hence becomes part of developing a good risk culture within the organisation.


13 October 2010

Sacked oboist was 'bullied' by conductor, tribunal hears‎

World-famous conductor 'bullied oboe player who asked him to stop singing in 16-year victimisation campaign'

In the artistic world of music, harmony between conductor and orchestra is paramount.

But in one loud clash, two musicians have apparently been engaged in a feud which has lasted 16 years. Yesterday, details emerged of the discord between Carlo Rizzi, the world-renowned Italian conductor of the Welsh National Opera, and principal oboe player Murray Johnston.

Murray Johnston, principal oboist for the Welsh National Opera, leaving the employment tribunal in Cardiff
At work: Oboe player Murray Johnston

Claims: Murray Johnston leaving the employment tribunal in Cardiff, left, and in action as principal oboist with the Wales National Orchestra

The 61-year-old claimed he was ‘victimised, bullied, harassed and intimidated’ by Mr Rizzi after once ordering him to ‘stop singing’. The veteran oboist has been sacked after playing with the WNO for 34 years, performing in more than 50 recordings.

He is claiming wrongful dismissal, saying he was ‘persistently abused’ by Mr Rizzi, 50, who became musical director of the Cardiff-based company in 1992.

Their relationship ‘never recovered’ after a rehearsal two years later when Mr Johnston told Mr Rizzi to ‘stop singing’, an employment tribunal heard. The context of the order to the conductor, who had previously been at the Royal Opera Company, Covent Garden, was not explained.

But Nick Smith, for the oboist, said: ‘Rizzi’s behaviour was extreme on that day. He stormed off, locked himself in a room and kicked furniture about.’

Mr Johnston told the hearing he suffered bullying and intimidation by Mr Rizzi during his work with the 55-strong orchestra over the following years. The principal oboist had to re-audition for his job even though he had been doing it for decades.

Tribunal: Italian conductor Carlo Rizzi, who is accused of bullying Mr Jonston

Tribunal: Italian conductor Carlo Rizzi, who is accused of bullying Mr Jonston

Mr Johnston, of Radyr, Cardiff, told the hearing he passed his audition, but alleges he was subjected to an ‘attack’ by Mr Rizzi in front of the orchestra during a rehearsal.

‘He stopped the rehearsal probably 20 or 30 times to criticise my playing. I felt victimised and bullied,’ said the musician.

Mr Smith added that many orchestra members wrote letters to complain about Mr Rizzi’s behaviour.

‘The language of these letters was very, very strong,’ he said.

‘They are from numerous members of the union, some anonymous, some not.

‘They accuse Mr Rizzi of intimidation and harassment, of even making one woman ill.’

The tribunal was told that Musicians’ Union members wrote letters to opera managers ‘expressing anger at the treatment of Mr Johnston’. A motion was also passed accusing Mr Rizzi of bullying.

WNO managing director Peter Bellingham denied Mr Johnston was unfairly dismissed.

He told the hearing that Mr Rizzi felt the oboist’s standards had dropped to such a level, he was ‘holding the entire orchestra back’.

Mr Rizzi, who has since left the WNO, will not be giving evidence. The hearing in Cardiff continues.


Sacked oboist was 'bullied' by conductor, tribunal hears

Welsh National Opera musician claims unfair dismissal after 1994 incident triggered years of 'persistent abuse'