Is Bullying Rife in the Charity Sector?

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This month a Guardian investigation uncovered that the Alzheimer’s Society has spent as much as £750,000 on securing staff to sign non-disclosure agreements. According to a whistle-blower, these NDAs were an attempt to silence staff that had complained about bullying within the organisation.

These allegations about bullying centred around Jeremy Hughes, the current CEO of the charity. The Guardian source reported he had an explosive temper and often shouted at both junior and senior staff.

As a standalone case, it is outrageous that a charitable organisation is diverting such huge sums towards covering the back of its management. However, the culture of bullying in the charity may be symptomatic of a much wider problem.

Within the sector the case is not unusual. In January last year, Oxfam was found to have failed to keep in check an environment that tolerated sexual misconduct and bullying. At Save the Children 25% of the charity’s 700 staff reported suffering discrimination or harassment in 2018. 

Bullying is apparently an endemic problem within the sector. But why is this? Siobhan Endean from the trade union Unite suggested that part of it comes from a lack of training for managers, and unclear employment legislation. If this is the only problem then a clear, and easy, solution presents itself. But this would suggest people are innately prone to bully each other in the workplace. This doesn’t explain the growth in bullying in recent years. 

Endean also suggested that it could be partly down to a great pressure to deliver heavy workloads off the back of insecure funding streams.

This cause sounds very familiar to what we keep hearing about many other sectors. Pressure on NHS hospitals and doctors to meet targets whilst funding is slashed. 

The 2018 NHS Staff Survey shows that bullying and harassment remains a problem in the health sector with one in five staff reporting personally having experienced harassment, bullying or abuse at work. 

As the pressure was on Parliament last year in the gruelling task of delivering Brexit, a scandal broke about the prevalence of bullying of staff in Westminster. 

Arguably, it boils down to something much more widespread – and much harder to address than legislation and training. That is, a change in our relationship to work. 

The growth in the gig-economy has translated to an innate change in how workers are valued in the workplace. As we continue to shift to a working culture based on minute targets and geared towards the greatest possible productivity, we have also shifted away from more human aspects of work. 

Workers are parts of a much greater machine, replaceable parts, as competition for work feels increasingly tough.

So, if improved training and workplace legislation is a sticking plaster to the problem of workplace bullying, what is the real solution?

We need to change the way we relate to work. More than this, we need to change the way that our places of work relate to us. 

Whilst platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo have provided work for many people, their impact on the working economy has had a huge impact on the quality of that work.

Image Credit: Concrete Online