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.