Tuesday 14 February 2017

Indignity at work

Do you ever have that feeling "Whatever happened to X?" after X, having been wall-to-wall coverage in The News, drops off the radar like a falling stone when some New News supersedes it? The News-desk editor has absolutely no sense of tying up loose ends or giving closure; not least because a case could be made that the news is designed to keep us off-kilter and worried about nameless horrors. We've come a good long way from 1930 when, on Good Friday, the BBC announced at 9 PM "There is no news" and cued some music. Ah lads, in those days there were some absolute standards. Now of course we have 24 hour rolling news on BBC, Sky, CNN and Fox. If it's a slow news day, any old shite will get reported with the same air-time as the end of the world as we know it or the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Last week there was an interesting report on RTE's Drivetime about something rotten in the state of the National Museum Service. This is one of the guardians of our culture and sense of identity: golden torcs, a stuffed quagga, Constance Markiewicz's hand-gun from 1916, the head of de Valera as a baby, all that heritage; all those artifacts. You'd imagine it was a "grand job if you can get it" job, a bit like getting your knees under the table at an Institute of Technology. You don't have to carry a gun [except Countess Markiewicz's, reverentially, when you get to dust it], or stand over a hot stove for 10 hours a day, or sit at the telephone trying to sell things to people who don't want them . . . and as a public servant the tax-payer is lurrying payments into your pension fund. It's also pretty exclusive, only 150 people work for the service spread across Head Office next to the Dáil; the Dead Zoo, Collins Barracks, and That Place in Mayo where they have all the sprongs, creels and donkey-carts How hard can it be?

Quite hard, and extremely demoralizing if you have a dysfunctional management who shout at you in private, humiliate you in front of co-workers, and find fault with pretty much everything you do. And always there is the threat that you'll be let go and bang goes the pension. Things were getting so bad that someone brought in a Dignity at Work expert from the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre to carry out a workshop about inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. Do you think that management were required to participate?  Then someone else commissioned and HR guru from Belfast to write the confidential Work Positive Profile Management Report which RTE got sight of. A WPPMR sounds quite upbeat, no? Would be harder to file it away if was an Endemic Bullying in the Workplace Report.

20% of 100 respondents felt they were habitually bullied at work, a further 20% were reckoned at risk of work-related anxiety or depression. 70% felt that morale was poor. RTE found a psychologist Stephanie Regan who had worked with museum staff between 2008-2012.  "I am over 25 years doing this work. I never heard the story being so consistent and coming from individuals not in the same room." Her reports were ignored by the Museum Management >!surprise!< and filed away as too difficult to action by the management's managers at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Affairs. It seems that if you complained in the Museum Service you could kiss goodbye to your flex-itime and/or promotion whereas as if you submitted a written complaint - it went straight in the shredder.

That's the Irish way: by seniority or "pull" you rise to the top of your organisation, you are now Grade 3 or above, sending your kids to fee-paying schools, buying a dacha in the country . . . this management lark is a doddle - until some managing is required of you. Then it turns out that you have the leadership skills of piranha, the charisma of a dead sheep and you couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery. It's the difficult cases that require management, organisations have inertia and in normal conditions they motor on nicely without being poked or pushed. Indeed poking and pushing, in normal circumstances, is probably counter-productive because the implied criticism gets people's backs up. And when things go tits-up on your watch? You can be confident that there will be leave-of-absence on full pay and then redundancy and a severance package because it will cost more to fight your union through the courts.

But back to last week's News! Unfortunately we're not going to hear any more about the skullduggery and bullying in the National Museum because everyone is getting their salacious teeth into the Gardai, the HSE and Dept Justice over the McCabe stitch up.  Any silver lining here? Only this: that the bullying isn't only being meted out on women - grown men have been seen to cry in Collins Barracks.

This isn't the first time I have had occasion to sound out about Dignity in the Workplace I - II or grossly inappropriate behaviour - bullying in school - bullying in college - [not] bullying pensioners. What happened to kindness?

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