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John MacDonald: Come Monday, the bullies will be back on the job

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Fri, 17 May 2024, 1:05pm
Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

John MacDonald: Come Monday, the bullies will be back on the job

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Fri, 17 May 2024, 1:05pm

If you talk to anyone who has been a manager and you ask them what’s the best thing about being a manager and what’s the worst, the answer will be the same for both. The people.  

I know, because I’ve been a manager before, and I know exactly how brilliant it can be when things are going great with your people. But, when they’re not, it can be a nightmare.  

And a new report out today from the Human Rights Commission and KPMG shows just how much of a nightmare it can be when those problems are caused by bullies. They’ve actually put a price tag on it. 

Which has prompted someone who says they were bullied out of a job —and who is something of an anti-bullying campaigner— to say today that they think bullying is part of New Zealand’s culture. 

And I agree. We like to think we’re a bunch of good sorts, but if you start to think about it for even just a minute or two, you start to realise that we are deluded on that front. And that bullying happens everywhere. 

Now it’s no coincidence that this report has come out today, because it’s Pink Shirt Day which is one of those annual awareness things.  

But, when it comes down to it, do you think everyone turning up to work and school in pink shirts and maybe having a morning tea together is going to change anything? Good on you if you are getting involved in all of this today, but I think it almost trivialises bullying. 

Because there will be no shortage of people today who are being bullied —in workplaces, for example— who will see people in the office running around in pink shirts and they will just know that, come Monday, it will all be back to normal. And the bullies will be back to normal transmission, and nothing will have changed.  

So, this report by the Human Rights Commission and KPMG says bullying in the workplace collectively costs employers $1.5 billion every year. 

They’ve worked it out by measuring things like people taking more time off work because of bullying, people not performing at their best because of what’s going on, higher staff turnover, and the time it takes to deal with complaints about bullying.  

Anti-bullying campaigner James Hilford says he was bullied out of a job and says it's rife everywhere.  

When I first heard what he was saying, I thought ‘oh here we go’. But then I thought about it, and he’s right. 

When we’re out driving, we’re bullies. Parents, at times, bully their kids. The All Blacks, we bully them endlessly. Social media. Whatsapp groups. I’d go as far as saying that we even bully ourselves. That’s how ingrained it is.  

You’ve got your passive aggressive types, they’re bullies. Then you’ve got the people who don’t even try to hide their bullying behaviour.   

I remember working somewhere once —and I wasn’t the manager— and they had a thing up on the wall recording how much money everyone was bringing into the business. That was bullying.  

They probably thought it was about driving performance. But it wasn’t. It was bullying. It was shaming the people who weren’t bringing-in as much revenue as some of the others. 

This isn’t to say, by the way, that things haven’t changed. Things have changed in terms of bullying, at least, being talked about, which is a start. But I reckon that might be as good as it gets. 

And we can have Pink Shirt Days until we’re blue in the face. But with bullying so ingrained in pretty much everything we do —so ingrained in our culture— I think we’re stuck with it. 

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