Bullies brought to book
The headteacher sweeps into a deserted staff-room, hunting for a member of staff. As a young student teacher, I say she has gone to register her class. This produces an apoplectic response. I am summoned to his study to be subjected to a 10-minute harangue on insolence and insubordination. I am told my career is over before it has even begun.
In a bewildered and distressed state, I seek comfort from the troops, who gently warn me that I must stand to attention should the megalomaniac head ever deign to address me again.
Thirty years on, workplace bullying remains a complex and contentious issue. It is also very subjective. Jo Clifton and Heather Serdar's careful and thoroughly researched volume covers just about everything there is to say on the subject.
It's not light bedtime reading, but is a useful reference tool for governors and union reps. Managers may feel instinctively nervous about the whole concept but, if this volume is anything to go by, thy shouldn't.
The authors make clear from the outset that a clear distinction is to be made between strict, structured management and the systematic abuse of power.
Bullying is destructive, both for organisations and individuals. Indeed, it could be argued that the most useful sections of the book are those designed to help employers and managers to develop a "healthy" workplace. Particularly useful is the analysis of the differences between managing and bullying.
From the supposed victims' perspective, the authors are occasionally less convincing. Inevitably so, perhaps. Subjectivity is never far away. "The important thing is: do you feel bullied, even if you have never given it that particular name?" Surely the important thing is whether there is any justification for such feelings.
Given the highly stressful nature of this kind of conflict, the supposed victim may well not be in a good position to judge. Which, in the end, makes this volume an invaluable, indeed essential new resource for mediators and counsellors in such situations - rather than the victims themselves.
Dennis Richards is head of St Aidan's Church of England School, Harrogate