There are managers who are bullies and then there is systematic
institutional harassment. In the latter HR rather than protect
employees against bulling and harassment advises senior management on
how to put pressure on staff in order to get rid of them. This is not
about weeding out the odd incompetent employee or those not in tune
with the organisations change in direction but simply down sizing and
replacing people on ,”expensive” contracts with those ,”less generous
“ or zero contracts.
Institutional Harassment is probably more widespread than generally
recognised but has recently received a lot of publicity due to a court
case in France. Senior executives including the HR director face
possible prisons sentences following charges that a number of suicides
by employees are related to a policy of systematic institutional
harassment. During a 12 month period 35 members of staff committed
suicide during a restructuring designed to cut the work force by one
fifth. For many the most damming evidence was the report that the
chief executive told a meeting of managers that he would “get people
to leave one way or another, either through the window or the door”.
The tactics used to harass staff into leaving included requiring
people to relocate or transferring them to other posts in other areas
of the business. One of the individuals who committed suicide was
apparently moved against his wishes four times in 12 months! It is
alleged that employees were redeployed not into the best fit but into
posts where they could make little use of their skills and experience
or were moved to posts that were then disestablished so they were
forced to go through the redeployment process again.
Clearly this was an aggressive restructuring aimed at slashing
the staffing budget in which HR saw their role as helping senior
management harass staff into leaving and avoiding costly redundancy
payments. This may be an extreme case because of the suicides but it
does raise a number of issues about the role of HR and the extent to
which senior management can be held responsible for the health and
well-being of employees.
The business plan may require a restructuring with resulting job
losses and changes in roles and responsibilities but an employer is
still expected to act reasonably. Redeployment offers must take
account of skills and experience. Is it reasonable to expect an
employee to give up a permanent post for a temporary one? And
relocation should be sympathetic to individuals family circumstances.
Management isn’t just about making decisions and then imposing them
it’s about the way decisions are implemented, the skill of managing
change is getting the right balance between the needs of the
organisation and the health and welfare of the workforce.
Blair Mcpherson former Director , author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk