Institutional Harassment 

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 



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