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Newspaper industry shuns anti-bullying conference

28 November 2016

The newspaper industry was conspicuous by its absence at a unions' and employers' event in November which shared good practice in tackling bullying in the media and arts.

The Federation of Entertainment Unions (FEU)  conference Positive Strategies for Resolving Conflict, in  east London, brought together leaders and HR staff from creative organisations such as the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), ITV, the BBC, TV production companies, Scottish Ballet, orchestras including The Hallé and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CSBO), National Theatre and the English National Opera among others.

Representatives from the newspaper were invited, but did not turn up, which was a shame as an FEU survey of 4,000 workers in the creative industries showed bullying in this sector was “exceptionally high”.

The survey also showed more than half of those questioned said they had been intimidated, harassed or discriminated against at work. The FEU held a consultation with its members to discuss the findings and to compile a range of guides to help reps deal with members experiencing the problem. It then created an industry-wide code of practice for employers.

The participants heard that outrageous behaviour in the competitive creative industries, particularly from the so-called talent and maestros, has for too long been accepted as part of the territory. People fear the “power of talent” and the consequences of speaking out.
As the FEU survey revealed, peer to peer bullying between musicians, actors, dancers, reporters and writers was also rife.

Ellie Peers, acting general secretary of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB), pointed out the high proportion of freelances in the arts and media created a particular problem: “Many fear they will be labelled a trouble-maker or that reporting bullying and harassment could affect their future employment,” she said. “Only a third of those surveyed by the FEU who suffered bullying and harassment reported the incidents.”  

Organisations which tolerated bullying risked damaging the health of employees and faced reputational risk, she said. Companies which became known for treating staff badly would not attract top people and could lead to expensive legal consequences. The Jimmy Savile case may be an extreme, but it happened – and with very serious outcomes.

An important element of the day was sharing experiences and good practice. Chairing a panel session, Horace Trubridge, the Musicians’ Union’s assistant general secretary, said he wanted to dismiss the myth that artists are expected to suffer if they are to attain a higher professional level.

Catherine Mallyon, executive director of the RSC, said the organisation recognised it had a problem with bullying and set out to tackle it with a series of working groups to discuss the issue. The company then instituted a respect policy which involved agreeing to a set of values and setting expectations of behaviour. Copies of the policy are put in prominent places. The RSC said it expected staff to respect each other’s skills and expertise; to listen to the ideas of others; consider the impact their behaviour had on others, to support each other and to collaborate on working together to create a healthy, happy and safe environment for all.

“We did wonder about the word happiness,” she said, “but, while we can’t sort out world happiness, we felt we could aspire to it within the RSC.”

The policy and its bold posters advertising it had to sit alongside others, she said, such as equal opportunities, health and safety, a whistle-blowing – now renamed speaking up – policy and training and development. The respect policy was something, she said, that needed to be constantly maintained and developed.

Charlotte Jones is chief executive of the Independent Theatre Council (ITC) which works with more than 400 companies, many of them small, many of them without an HR department. She said: “Good art thrives on good management. Our members are artists who suddenly find themselves as managers, which can be an isolating and difficult experience. One of the biggest problems is the maxim that the show must go on. The arts can be dominating and tyrannical. People are not props and they must be put before profit; show business must realise that people are more important than the show.”

Alex Efthymiades, is director of Consensio, a leading workplace mediation company which works with a range of firms, including the BBC. She said managing relationships must be seen as a strategic priority by arts and media organisations. Pressures of deadlines could lead to conflict between people who feel under stress.

It is better, she said, to provide informal procedures for resolution before getting into grievance situations. The BBC was training a group of people in the organisation to act as mediators. Organisations should also take stock of their culture, and use an inclusive, collaborative approach which embraces management, HR, the unions and staff to set up anti-bullying frameworks. “Conflict is not always bad,” Alex said. “Sometimes organisations need it to develop and create change, but it must be carefully managed. If it exists in a healthy environment, it can be creative rather than destructive.”

Full conference report

Go to the Creating Without Conflict campaign page

Tags: , feu, bullying, bectu, equity, writers' guild, musicians union, creating without conflict