Abuse of Power – with a case study!

I have been on the verge of writing a blog entry several times during the past few weeks and each time been put off from so doing, as I watched one story after another as breaking news, each one stimulating another thought about diversity issues.

First there was a slavery issue uncovered in Bedfordshire, where 24 people were kept as “slaves”. Twenty-four men were found living in cramped conditions in caravans, sheds and horse boxes during a police raid; some had been there for 15 years. Their labour had been sold for profit by a gang of unscrupulous and uncaring individuals, when they were receiving minimal or no financial reward for their work. The men, without status to work in the UK, were at the mercy of those who “owned” them – they were defenceless and unable to resist.

Then, my attention was attracted to the story about the traveller site that is in the process of being closed down by a local authority, with hundreds of evictions. The council officers have been so obsessed with maintaining their precious planning regulations, which have undoubtedly been broken, that they seem to have forsaken any compassion for the individuals in the situation; families of people who have been living on this site for years. To date the travellers have managed to delay the eviction though a court hearing, although the authorities seem intent on final victory.

I noticed, fairly low in yesterday’s news that women are to be given the vote in Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah has stated that the Saudis no longer want to marginalise women, so are prepared to “involve women in the Shura Council as members” and grant them suffrage. Although this is a huge step forward, it should still be noted that women are not permitted to drive, nor are they allowed to leave the country unaccompanied – though they can with their husband, father or brother.

What do these stories have in common? They all centre on the use (or misuse) of power; by criminals, a local council and a state. I guess the vast majority of us will read these stories with some degree of horror or disgust, but do we ever fall into similar situations within our own lives. Do we ever abuse our own power? My guess is that we do. Whether in our own home as parents, or in the workplace as a manager or business owner, we are all susceptible to abusing power.

A Case Study

This abuse of power was demonstrated at the start of last month when I was called by a young man who was having trouble with his manager, who seemed to be deliberately humiliating staff in public. At the team’s weekly staff meeting the manager seemed to systematically choose which person to target that day – no-one was safe. Individually the incidents were relatively minor, perhaps sometimes even humorous; what the manager effectively created, was a culture of fear. This was not his intention – he thought he was being a good manager. Organisationally, the team performed well, meeting targets and achieving goals, but at what cost? Team morale was poor and some of the staff dreaded going to work.

The manager in question had not seen his actions as being patronising or embarrassing. He believed that humour was a valuable tool in his management style. He failed to see that his jokes at the expense of others, when backed up by his position of power, were humiliating and often degrading. He never dreamed that this was oppressive behaviour; he stated that in the meetings everyone laughed and seemed to be having fun.

Once brought to him attention, he has expressed a willingness to make a change. Through a “Working with Difference” course of telephone coaching he will explore the impact of his behaviour on colleagues and examine how he can improve his management style.

The work setting is protected by the use of the “Working with Difference” model which achieves successful results in managing workplace relationships by avoiding unpleasant disciplinary procedures, which is often the first step in dealing with conflict and difference at work. I wonder if all your managerial relationships are as effective as they could be. How could “Working with Difference” help you.

About equalityedge

I run Equality Edge and its unique and creative "Working with Difference" project. It supports employers and managers in gaining a competitive and cost saving advantage from meeting equality and diversity best practice obligations. Coaching and workshops are used to deliver organisational, team and leadership development, assisting in improving communication and the understanding of the impact difference has on workplace behaviour.
This entry was posted in age equality, beyond diversity, Bullying & Harassment, discrimination, Equality & Diversity, gender equality, inequality, management, Uncategorized, workplace bullying. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Abuse of Power – with a case study!

  1. Alan Og says:

    Sounds like the right outcome. Clearly this individual has been blissfully unaware that his behaviour was unwanted and having a negative effect, so it looks to me that the right interventions have been made. Its not a hanging offence (yet !) and I suspect that deep down the individual would have felt embarrassed and upset.

    I’m certainly not saying that this applies in this case, and I keep saying this, but life can be a bit like treading on egg shells and the danger is that we will be creating clones lacking any degree of personality who never say anything that could possibly be taken out of context, or anything that could possibly offend someone. I think people can be a bit precious, and easily offended, so we are in danger of creating a very dull world where people in the workplace just play safe, cut out the humour and stay away from any issue that may be sensitive. What will people talk about at the workplace (I hesitate to say “in the office” for fear of alienating non office workers). Perhaps the best advice is to quietly get on with your work as thats safest. I doubt however that this “sterile environment” will breed fantastic team spirit, I also doubt that this will this form cohesive and high performing teams. I believe we need a bit of give and take in life, and part & parcel of being a good team player is the ability to mix, and to have some fun at work. The danger is that we will strip all the fun away for fear of upsetting someone.

    I can see parrallels with Health & Safety where our kids aren’t allowed to play outside at school when its snowing.

    By the way, I abhor bullying of any kind, I have investigated many Bullying & Harrassment and Grievance cases, so I do genuinely have sypathy with individuals genuinely affected, so please don’t take the view that I am in any way complacent about a very serious issue in business today.

  2. Len says:

    I completely disagree with you about Dale Farm.
    Some Travellers consistently illegally occupy/build on Green Belt land and then invoke Human Rights and other BS to remain because it’s become their “home”. So what?
    I thought that they were “Travellers” ie, they travel. Why do they suddenly want to be “permanent”???
    Why should Travellers be allowed to flout the law and the rest of us not?
    I hope that the illegal occupiers of Dale Farm get turfed out as soon as possible, so that a clear, strong message is transmitted to all – traveller and non-traveller alike.

    • equalityedge says:


      You present the majority view. I try not to judge situations unless I know all the facts.

      At Dale Farm, as I mention in the article, the travellers are clearly in breach of planning regulation. My concern is that an authority can lose sight of the needs of individuals by hiding behind rules and regulation.

      I was making a point about who has power – and clearly it is in the hands of establishment and I am sure we can all thin of times when we have been on the receiving end of misuse of established power. Just think of parking attendants who state “Jobsworth” as an excuse. I know it is less serious an issue but does represent the same relationship between authorities and individuals.

  3. Jose says:

    I dont like bullys of any kind I like to treat people as I would like myself as for tessex council and travelers I hope the council lose they own the site and some homes cannot be moved. I thought the law was that councils should provide sites They listening to racist locals So good luck to the
    The ladies of sadie have a start it took years to get the vote for woman here and we dont have that many rights we are still fighting
    jose jacobs
    wellness coach

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