Fiona Jones on coverage of bullying in the workplace, and Jon Sutton on Haunted Homes.

More questions than answers

THE case of Helen Green, a city administrator who received over £800,000 worth of compensation as a result of bullying, provoked considerable media attention.
While much of the debate centred on the financial issues, the case also prompted a serious discussion of the psychological issues in The Guardian on 3 August. In the article entitled ‘Bristle while you work’, Patrick Barkham discussed both the increase in bullying in all sectors of the workplace and the extent to which bullying has now become part of popular entertainment on such programmes as The Weakest Link, The Apprentice and Big Brother, amongst many others.
Barkham considered various viewpoints in relation to bullying. For example, while some see the dominance of bullies as a major problem, others view bullying as ‘charisma in action’ and suggest that good leaders are being emasculated by a culture where we expect to be mollycoddled at work. However, he argued that employers can no longer ignore bullying, as recent cases, applying the 1997 Protection from Harassment Act (the ‘Stalker’ Act), hold employers liable for bullying even if they did not know it was going on.
Barkham drew on psychologists’ expertise in discussing the need for anti-harrassment policies in the workplace, and the ways these are used to both define and eliminate bullying. Michael Guttridge, a business psychologist, was quoted describing the difficulties of getting an objective definition of bullying. While the assumption is usually that if you think you are being harassed then you are, he suggests that the line between bullying and firm management is narrow.
Marilyn Aitkenhead, another occupational psychologist who works with bullies and their victims, was quoted describing the types of bullying found in the workplace. One type engage in ‘humiliating manipulation’. Such bullies are often charismatic individuals who have lost empathy for those at the lower levels. They may be charming to superiors but secretly undermine colleagues. Another type of bully is the person suffering from ‘perfectionist anxiety’ who may place unreasonable demands on others. Aitkenhead suggested that the manipulative type of bully is in the minority.
Barkham’s article raises a lot of questions but provides few solutions. It left me wondering why it is that, despite increasing research, media coverage and growing public awareness of the damage done by bullying, we seem to live in a culture where bullying, in some contexts at least, seems more rather than less acceptable than ever.
However, predictably, most publicity surrounded the amount of the compensation. Was it an obscene amount or, as a financial writer in the Sunday Times suggested, not really enough? The greater part of the compensation (£640,000) was for likely future loss of earnings). I wonder if the calculation of this large anticipated loss was based on the fact that Helen Green is now training for a career in academia!
    Fiona Jones

Scary but not in that way

HAUNTED Homes (ITV) was by far the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. Its one saving grace for me was that it raised interesting questions about psychologists and whether their involvement can save such programmes.
Faced with overwhelming evidence of spirit activity – her daughter talking to people who weren’t there and falling down the stairs, some noise on a baby monitor – Heather Harris called in the Haunted Homes team. Psychic Mia Dolan reassured her that it ‘is very rare that a ghost can physically harm you’, but pretty soon Dolan was staggering out of the house saying she was feeling very ill. Paranormal investigator Mark Webb found that upstairs was .7 degrees warmer than downstairs (he said the ‘point’ very quietly). That wasn’t the only hot air rising, as Mia blathered on about butchers’ hooks, deep guttural noises and portals to the spirit world.
Yet at the end of it, having given Heather just what she wanted in a ‘piff paff poof… and he’s gone’ ceremony, Mia was the one that they wanted to ‘give a great big hug, a great big kiss and say thank you very much.’ Poor Professor Chris French (Goldsmiths College), stuck out in his winnebago talking about suggestibility, didn’t get so much as a cup of tea. It certainly raises questions about which is the helping profession, and whether the ends justify the means.
Unfortunately historical archives failed to find Jack, who had been ‘hanging’ around.
But according to the presenter, hanging was common in the old days, and on the basis of tonight’s ‘evidence’ we should all basically be very worried. The presenter maintained that French ‘remains an ardent sceptic’, but ‘even he can’t provide an alternative theory’. Somehow I find that even harder to believe than the ghost world door in the cupboard.
    Jon Sutton

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