Where to turn? When professional codes of conduct trump targets' protection.
9:54am - 12/Mar/2013

Today’s post will most likely ruffle a few feathers (and maybe well it should) within the ranks of labour organizations and professional associations.  I have all too often now on my speaking tours been challenged with one recurring theme.  That being, how do I as a target of workplace bullying gain support when the union and professional codes of conduct force me (without any support) into a one on one encounter with my bully?

Bullying as I have so often pointed out has as one if its cornerstone aspects a power imbalance.  By forcing a target into an encounter/confrontation with a perpetrator, that power imbalance is further established and strengthened. The natural he said/she said dynamic that results from private face to face encounters often will fall in favour of the person with more power. In these cases this means the bully.

Let me put this into a real story perspective.  After my second last session I was approached by two individuals with two differing but common dilemmas.  Both individuals were teachers and as such were part of a professional association that doubles with union-like activities.  In one instance the teacher was being bullied by an administrator who used tactics such as negative cultural references, of the cuff remarks about the teacher’s personal appearance and gender inappropriate remarks.  All of these were done in passing and in relative private (the typical Two-faced weasel approach). The teacher in question was relatively new and was still waiting on permanent certification and contract status. Thus the power imbalance was, to say the least, extreme.  When she finally had endured over a year of this abuse she called her association. She was then reminded of her professional obligations under the code of conduct and was directed to take up the issue and her concerns directly with her bully. Therein the process came to a screeching halt as she was rightfully fearful of this individual and the consequences of such a “conversation”.

The second story comes from a teacher who was a witness to the abuse of a colleague by an administrator.  This was much more overt including tactics as using put-downs in staff meetings, interrupting and using non-verbal behaviours to illustrate his disdain for the target. When this teacher asked for some advice on how to best aid the target, she was cautioned again by her professional association that she was in jeopardy of breeching her professional ethics should she “interfere” in a matter that did not involve her.

In both of these cases the organization that a target most relied upon to give support and guidance has failed both targets and witnesses to workplace bullying essentially high and dry.  This then begs the question, “To what extent do professional associations/labour organizations support their members when the conflict is internal?” Where do targets go when they risk further victimization by their own profession?

Something needs to change here.  Unions and associations are loathing to importing “outside intervention”. They feel diminished by involving others outside of their circle of influence.  How do we then support targets of workplace bullying when the supports are being shut out? Discussions that need to happen within professions must start within a safe and accepting environment.  Will this happen? Your guess is as good as mine.

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