Bullying in the Security Industry by Michael O’Sullivan

Bullying in the security industry is a problem. I’ve experienced it myself. I’ve seen other people subjected to it. I’ve spoken to many colleagues who have shared their stories with me.

I’ve seen people who should have been fired, protected, and their innocent targets sacrificed instead, only for the bullying to continue with the next person!

This article is an opinion piece, drawn mostly from my own experiences and recollections from a career in the UK security industry that began in 1989.

Bullying IS a significant problem, and whether you are experiencing it directly or must deal with it from an employer’s perspective, the importance of being properly informed cannot be overstated.

Dont suffer alone, speak to someone, get support!

The Definition of Bullying and Harassment from the National Bullying Helpline website is worth reading. Their site is at: https://www.nationalbullyinghelpline.co.uk

Definitions exist for a reason, they provide a framework against which, actions and situations are judged and actions decided. However, no one who is being bullied needs a definition to understand what is happening. How serious can bullying be? It causes stress, destroys lives and can lead to illness and worse. As well as the effects on the individual concerned there are also the knock-on effects on their family, friends and colleagues.

Business costs in dealing with bullying are likely to be significant, especially if the employer fails in some way to deal with situations that have been reported to them.

Those costs to the security industry are difficult to calculate. One major employer, where business costs related to bullying have been calculated, is the NHS. The figures should raise red flags for any business owner.

Bullying in the NHS is costing the service more than £2 billion per year in England: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/10/23/bullying-nhs-costing-service-2-billion-per-year-england-research/

That is a staggering sum of money and beggars belief! As a financial loss to any business sector that demands some serious attention. Why then do employers continue to fail in dealing with bullying within their organisations? There are different reasons, and you will discover them for yourself if you continue to research the subject.

Where bullying is the problem, be informed. Be very informed…….

Don’t make the mistake of listening to the wrong people! The world is full of ‘experts’ who make up their own fantasy legislation and who think their uninformed opinions are actually worth something. Generally, the more clueless these ‘experts’ are, the more convincing they sound.

Be informed about bullying!

If you are being bullied you may feel powerless when the opposite is in fact the case. There are many resources that you can call on for help. A comprehensive list of these is provided at the bottom of this article.

First, I’d like to get a few things out there. We’ve all heard that all bullies are cowards. In some cases, this will be true, but in my experience, they rarely are. A stereotype is not the best basis on which to form a plan of action. And action is needed to deal effectively with bullies.

A colleague of mine arrived at a new site one day for a temporary assignment to help cover team members that were out due to operations and illness. The ‘manager’, I’ll use the word lightly, told him that he thought all ex-services thought too much of ourselves, were all full of s**t, (plus a few choicer comments) before telling him that it wouldn’t take him long to ‘break him’ and force him off ‘his’ site.

For two weeks the security officer filled up a notebook with every comment, threat and unlawful instruction that was thrown his way. At that point he submitted a formal grievance via his employer. This eventually led to the managers dismissal, but only after a fight with the company.

They initially balked and suggested that it was all just banter and the manager didn’t really mean any of it. A suggestion was made that my colleague might need to ‘man up’!

I don’t even know what that means? Even if we were to adopt the patriarchal, misogynistic view of the world that ‘manning up’ seems to suggest – I don’t see anything in the least bit ‘manly’ about accepting a scenario where being abused in the workplace is ok.

So far nothing unexpected. Those of you with a few years and experiences under your belt in the industry will not be surprised by that response.

At the outcome of the first meeting regarding the complaint my colleague was moved off the site and the ‘manager’ left in place. The written complaints procedure had been completely ignored. In a nutshell my colleague was viewed as the problem that had to be dealt with, not the person who seemed to think that threats and abuse were acceptable behaviour in the workplace.

My colleague again wrote to the company with a 7-day ultimatum. He told them that he was placing the matter in the hands of a solicitor and would be reporting the threats made against his person to the police.

By this stage he was being recognised for his performance and had already been named ’employee of the month’. With nothing to lose he also told his employer that removing him from the site was effectively punishing him for speaking out. That, and failing to follow their own complaints procedure, would form the basis of future action if they failed to reopened his complaint within 7 days. A solicitor’s letter was also thrown into the mix!

‘Round two’ saw every line of the company’s formal complaints procedure followed to the letter.

About 6 to 8 weeks later the bully was dismissed. A history of ignored complaints was uncovered during the second, more thorough, investigation.

This is a list of some things worth knowing, far from comprehensive but the aim of this article is to encourage you to study this subject and become knowledgeable.

  • Employers often try to ignore, deflect or bury a complaint.
  • It’s actually very easy to remain calm and not respond to attempts at provocation when you are well informed and have a strategy.
  • Support is invaluable, you need people around you that you can talk to about the situation.
  • Don’t expect the bully to have any insight into their own behaviour. They will have an endless list of reasons why their behaviour is your fault!
  • Bullies and their allies will lie about you and will conspire to ‘get you’.
  • Bullies will lie about you with no compunction whatsoever.
  • This is one situation where a plan WILL survive first contact with the enemy. Know what you are doing and why you are doing it.
  • Culture is never acceptable as an excuse for allowing bullying to continue in an organisation. If bullying was not acceptable in the French Foreign Legion in the 80’s, it isn’t acceptable in the modern security industry.
  • Incompetent leaders exist, are often highly regarded and believe their own BS.
  • Competent workers are seen by the above as a threat.
  • Bullies will blame their victims.
  • Take notes, take notes, take notes! You are a security professional, you should already understand the importance of this!
  • Informal and formal complaints procedures are normal. Understand them and use them.
  • Corporate bullying leads to closing of ranks and someone standing up for themselves being ostracised. In this case you are going to a tribunal, or more likely, settling out of court.
  • False accusations of bullying and resultant stress do sadly occur as some people blatantly play the compensation card! These people are an insult to those genuinely suffering and can cause a great deal of damage.

In the end, how you deal with bullies and bullying behaviour if you experience it, will depend on numerous factors. Don’t try to do it alone! Talk to someone, get support.


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Mike O’Sullivan

Michael O’Sullivan