Ostrich Syndrome – it’s exactly what you think

Manipulation and Ostrich Syndrome go hand in hand with Permissibility.

Manipulative behaviour is a feature of workplace bullying. It also appears in other guises, for example, when an HR department tries to divert an employee from making a complaint. Often this is about pay, hours of work, time off or workplace bullying. The problem is that HR personnel are appointed to uphold management policy, not to protect or support employees. It’s not their fault – it’s in their job description.

Ostrich Syndrome is the denial that comes into play when management seeks to rebut a legitimate complaint, which can include the existence of a bullying situation. Sadly, this is a common occurrence. Managements suffering from Ostrich Syndrome do exactly what it says on the tin – sand, head, buried.

Permissibility occurs when someone allows something to continue to happen, even when they’re in a position to stop it or have a significant impact upon it. Unfortunately, often this something is bad or unpleasant, like workplace bullying. Those most likely to be guilty of permissibility are in positions of power and the sad thing is that usually they don’t see that by failing to acknowledge that a problem exists, they are effectively condoning it.

So how to address these issues? In my experience, trades unions representatives who have been well trained are very adept at helping an employee take forward a complaint. More people need to sign up to their union; Equity, the MU and Bectu for the majority of performing arts workers, for example – they take care of freelancers and short-time contract workers as well as full-time, permanent employees.

HR professionals are also becoming better informed about employee difficulties (as opposed to difficult employees). There’s still some way to go here and I hope forthcoming changes in attitude will move the field of HR management in the right direction.

Management needs to get better at listening: too often complaints are dismissed out of hand – my cultural sector research found that ‘indifference’ on the part of management was the most common reaction to complaints.

Permissibility is a huge issue: until the powers that be acknowledge that they have a duty to comment on workplace issues, then this one will run and run. In every employment sector, governing bodies need to stand up and be counted; in my opinion, promoting Dignity at Work is as important as advocating Equal Opportunities and Diversity policies.

If you have an opinion or comment to make, I’d like to hear it.


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