I thought it had been a quiet chat, raising the matter of performance after the employee had been with me perhaps six or seven years. He’d been impressive and dynamic at the beginning but gradually the performance had tailed off. I outlined some of the identifiable issues and suggested he think about them and come back for another chat the following week.
The next day the employee was absent: work-related stress was cited.
Going off sick is a standard employee response to such situations. Sometimes they take a couple of days to make a point and then they are back. This case followed the other route: the employee was clearly not going to return. The union was involved and, after a bit of sabre rattling by him, a compromise agreement was reached. The employee received a substantial payment in exchange for resigning.
It was the union’s accusation of bullying that disturbed me. I didn’t want to bully anyone, merely to get the job done. And it’s bad business to have accusations like that floating around in any business. It was clearly necessary for me to get trained. I booked into an ACAS course about bullying in the workplace.
Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) is a Government body. “Making working life better for everyone in Britain” is its strapline. “ACAS gives employees and employers free, impartial advice on workplace rights, rules and best practice.” I had high expectations of the course.
Taking place a good while before Covid and distance learning, this was an in-person course. It started with a plenary session at which we were asked what we wanted to get out of the course. I kicked off: “I want to know the difference between bullying and firm management.”
“Mm, yes,” echoed the trainer. “You want to know the difference between bullying and firm management.”
After one or two others had raised questions, the course proceeded. It contained all the obvious things about dealing with employees kindly and fairly, etc, etc. Eventually the course ended with a plenary session, at which we were asked if we had any questions.
“I want to know the difference between bullying and firm management,” I said, since the matter hadn’t even been mentioned during the course.
“Ah yes,” said the trainer and then paused. “It all depends on what side of the fence you are on. If you are an employer, you call it firm management: if you are the union, you call it bullying.”
And that was that.
The whole Dominic Raab situation is based on the myth of perfect management. This is the absurd notion that perfect management results in a contented workforce, perfectly carrying out all their functions. If there is under-performance or, God forbid, discontent in the workforce, the management is imperfect and any fault is theirs.
Those of us who have had significant experience as employers know that, in today’s workplace, effective management is impossible to achieve because of the myth of perfect management. Right from the beginning we expected Dominic Raab to get the chop.