Chef Ramsay or Donald Trump?

This is a story from the BBC News Magazine about workplace bullying. The story compares Chef Gordon Ramsay from Hell’s Kitchen and the British host of The Apprentice, Alan Sugar. The format of Trump’s show is similar to that of Sugar’s. PGB

Just what is bullying?

By Rajini Vaidyanathan, BBC News Magazine

Everybody has been in an office where tempers were lost and swearing occurred on an occasional basis. But what distinguishes the acceptable boisterousness that characterises some workplaces with downright bullying?

Shouting, screaming, swearing, ignoring or behaviour designed to embarrass.

Has your boss done any of the above to you, and if so, did you shrug it off as normal office behaviour, or consider it something far more serious?

In a new book, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been accused of workplace bullying after a number of alleged incidents. He is said to have grabbed staff by the lapels, shoved them aside and shouted at them.

Mr Brown admits he can get angry, and is determined and strong willed, but denies he is a bully.

So where is the line drawn between being assertive in the workplace and being labelled a bully?

Defining where that line is, and when it is crossed, can be difficult. If you’ve failed to meet your project deadline, should your boss take you to one side and sweetly tell you you didn’t make the grade, or does he or she have a right to shout at you and demand answers?

In the various interpretations of workplace bullying, there is a common thread – it is when the behaviour humiliates and offends the victim, is a personal attack, and is an abuse of power.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, which represents recruitment experts, defines it as this:

  • “Bullying at work involves repeated negative actions and practices that are directed at one or more workers.
  • “The behaviours are unwelcome to the victim and undertaken in circumstances where the victim has difficulty in defending themselves.
  • “The behaviours may be carried out as a deliberate act or unconsciously. These behaviours cause humiliation, offence and distress to the victim.”

Ramsay rollicking

But even then, it can be hard to know what distinguishes an ebullient manager from a bullying boss.

“Strong managers are given power because they are managers,” says Lynn Witheridge, chief executive of the Andrea Adams Consultancy which was set up to deal with workplace victimisation. “It’s their job to use and to wield it but not to abuse.”

For many people, the embodiment of an irascible boss is TV chef Gordon Ramsay, or Alan Sugar, who wields the firing finger in the BBC’s The Apprentice. Both have formidable characters and don’t hesitate to deliver withering comments.

But by Ms Witheridge’s definition only Ramsay’s approach could be considered a form of workplace bullying.

“He is absolutely [a bully] because it becomes personal… he uses swearing, and shouts at people saying they’re thick.”

Sugar, however, is not, she says.

“He has to pick the very best but it doesn’t get personal. He doesn’t use personal traits and accuse them of being thick… he strongly manages them.”

But others might see the behaviour of the head chef as entirely reasonable, given the pressurised environment of a professional kitchen.

Kitchen tempers

Most people understand that at busy times, it is high tension, says Jenny Stringer, acting managing director of Leiths School of Food and Wine.

“You need to be quite vocal, depending on the kitchen you need to speak loudly. I don’t think that’s what anyone means by bullying,” she says.

There’s a clear difference between yelling orders at people and operating normal quality control, and repeatedly physically confronting a single member of staff, she notes.

It’s not just in kitchens that tempers are frequently raised. Shouting at someone who is late to meet their deadline might not seem out of place in a newspaper office, or in a trading room where a certain level of robustness is expected.

Neil Addison, a barrister who specialises in harassment cases, says context is key.

“What might not be bullying in the barrack room, might be harassment in a school. If you’re training for the SAS there’s no point complaining that a sergeant is shouting at you because that’s what goes with the job.

“But if you’re a teacher in a school or a worker in an office there’s no reason for your boss to shout at you.”

Some of those who have experienced workplace bullying say the stereotype of being barked at by a short-tempered boss is missing the point. It can manifest itself in a more subtle, yet sustained, manner.

Mark, who worked for a private firm that was contracted by the NHS several years ago, became a victim.

“It wasn’t a question of pushing and shoving, but it was nasty stuff.

“There was an attempt to to show you up in meetings. Saying to your face you didn’t know what you were talking about, putting self-doubt in your mind.”

Yet when he tried to raise the issue, he was given the brush off.

Playground ring

“I tried to do the right thing and reported it to HR. They told me it wasn’t bullying. They said ‘it’s just your boss, it’s the way he is’.”

Mark eventually took voluntary redundancy, and now runs his own antiques business.

“I got to the point where I went off for a while with stress. I was unable to do my job.

“This kind of background bullying, it isn’t as overt as someone standing yelling at your face from two inches away. It hits you in the guts. You think ‘maybe I’m making this up’.”

Part of the problem could be the label of “bullying” which comes with a good deal of emotional baggage, says Lynn Witheridge.

“People are so fearful of using this word. The childish connotations of the word makes them feel weak or a trouble-maker.”

Story from BBC NEWS:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8528422.stm

 

Published: 2010/02/22 15:32:36 GMT

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