InterviewBullying in the Arts

Published on Monday, 1 October, 2012 | Comments

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Stine Nilsen

Monday, 19 November, 2012

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Thursday, 27 September, 2012

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While many will associate bullying with school children the prevalence of it the professional workplace and especially in the arts is all too real.

Anne-Marie Quigg is a consultant who has been studying bullying in the cultural sector since 2001 the culmination of which was the publication of a book "Bullying in the Arts: Vocation, Exploitation and Abuse of Power".

Recently Ms Quigg has been attempting to get Arts Council England to take a position on this problem without much success.

Article19: Why did you write this book?

I first became interested in the [subject] when I left work and had gone into business as a consultant. That meant I was in a lot of different workplaces within any one year. Organisations of lots of different sizes, different scales [and in] different parts of the country.

Increasingly I noticed that there was a lot of strange behaviour going on, a lot of managers particularly who seemed to be intolerant and demanding. Often this was middle management level but occasionally it was somebody at the top of an organisation. Then a couple of colleagues of mine suffered very nasty, distressing scenes at work and then I myself encountered this behaviour directly and realised, when i came out of the other end of it, that I had been bullied.

So I wanted to find out of this was just a one off that several people happened to have experienced or whether there was more too it than that and that's really what sparked the research. When I began to look into it I found out that a lot of people had been studying bullying in a lot of different employment sectors.

All the usual ones that you would expect, the armed forces, the police, prisons, etc. While I was still working on my own cultural sector stories, as it were, people were beginning to publish work about bullying in the health service and bullying in higher education.

Anne-Marie Quigg

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Ann-Marie is a freelance consultant, under the banner Jackson-Quigg Associates, working in the arts and community organisations across the UK. This involves working with organisations that may be having issues highlighted in this piece or with general company support, project management or business planning.

The performers union Equity through Billy Mc Coll said of her book; "After reading Anne-Marie Quigg's wonderful and informative book 'Bullying in the Arts' I was so inspired and motivated, that I wrote and submitted a Motion for my Union, Equity, proposing that the Federation of Entertainment Unions hold a Symposium on the subject."

Article19: What forms does bullying take beyond the idea of mere physical intimidation?

Although there isn't a shared definition across the world, there are some very notable characteristics of bullying and it's not a question of somebody [just] losing their temper. In fact, the whole point about bullying is that it is a persistent [and] repeated series of actions over a period of time.

Sometimes it is overt, sometimes it is aggression. There are managers, I'm sure all of us have heard of them even if we haven't actually met them, who could reduce staff to tears because they have that kind of belligerent personality. But bullying [also] happens by very covert means. It happens secretively [and is done] by people who are good at manipulating others. Again, there have been a rash of publications, particularly in Australia actually, linking bullying to psychopathic behaviour.

A lot of academic researchers have looked at the link between childhood bullying and adult bullying and domestic abuse and workplace bullying. So there's a whole cycle of work out there undertaken by sociologists and psychologists principally looking into ways people treat other people badly.

Bullying is very distressing. If you are [on the receiving end of it] but it's also quite distressing if you witness it. One of the most recent studies I've read, and I haven't read it in depth yet I've just looked at the findings and the abstract, says that people who witness bullying are actually more likely to leave the workplace than people who have been on the receiving end.

The people I have spoken to in various arts organisations who have witnessed it have found it a very frightening experience and something they want to get away from as quickly as possible. It's also something they don't want to talk about in-case they are next in line!

Article19: If you are on the receiving end of this type of behaviour how does it affect you?

It creates what you might describe as a toxic environment. If you've got a serial bully in one place they will pick on person relentlessly until they've reduced them to a person who will often have severe health problems, both physical and psychological. Then they will move onto the next person and do the same thing all over again.

So, you get people in organisations who are notorious for bad behaviour, who can be nice as pie to someone, for the first six months that they know them. Then this [bad] behaviour starts and continues and continues, usually until [the target] leaves the organisation.

The people I have spoken to often don't realise what's happening to them until a curtain length of time has elapsed. It can be three months, six months. In one case of a theatre worker in London, 18 months before [they] realised what was going on.

Article19: What about the person doing these things, how are they affected?

Well, it does a couple of things. Often the person is in denial about their behaviour and considers themselves just to be a strong manager or some other euphemism is used, or it's all [just] office politics.

Sometimes they make a counter accusation of bullying as a kind of defence mechanism, they say this person has it "in for me" so this is why they are making this complaint. Bullies are actually very good at impressing people who are important in terms of power at an organisation. So a chief executive who bullies might have a board who thinks that he's the bee's knees but a staff team that knows very differently.

Sometimes there is a degree to which some bullying might be unwitting, the first time it happens. Maybe somebody didn't realise the effect their words or their actions were having on a colleague, but that's very rare. In most cases, bullies actually set out on a campaign and a lot of psychologist have said that this is because they themselves are, in some way, inadequate.

A bully is maybe not quite upto the job they have been appointed to or they have a level of social inadequacy, they don't get on well with people. When you look at the statistics across all employment sectors, targets of bullying are nearly always people who are good at their jobs, competent [and] popular.

Article19: Were you surprised at the level of bullying that you found was happening in the arts?

I was shocked because of the level. Before I did my research, most of the other academic who were looking into different sectors were finding figures like one in three people were the targets of bullies. When I came out of the research I did with the trade union BECTU, across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland I had reports that two in five workers were being targeted, that's nearly 40%.

It wasn't that [bullying] existed because I think that we would all agree that there are bullies in all walks of life, there was one study that talked about bullying in the Church of England. It was the level of it that took me by surprise, that it was higher in the arts than in any other area that's previously been examined.

Article19: How was the number you mention derived, what was the methodology?

I used a couple of statistical studies, so I actually used surveys, both online and on paper of BECTU members who were active in their trade union. I then did a series of interviews with artistic directors, writers, dancers, actors, etc. So I did both qualitative and quantitive analysis to get the whole picture as it were.

Article19: You have been persistent in trying to get Arts Council England to take a position on this issue, why is that?

When I was doing research for the book two years ago I spoke to the Arts Council staff at some length. In the beginning they were a bit unsure and they thought maybe I should approach them using an FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request. But I did say to them that I'm a researcher and not a journalist and they were very forthcoming. The name of the staff member I spoke to most of the time was Jonathan Treadway, although he's no longer with the Arts Council.

Jonathan and I has a number of email correspondences and we agreed what the Arts Council's position was and that's what I put into the book. At that time Jonathan said the Arts Council would give consideration to making a statement about work place bullying in the arts which I was very pleased about.

So the book was published last year and a number of articles were written by different journals and [various] reports came out. Finally, when we got to the beginning of this year I thought maybe it was about time the Arts Council made their statement. I knew that Equity was very keen to make it clear that bullying could not be tolerated and had said so at their national conference.

When I got to the Arts Council my first email was directly to Alan Davey (ACE CEO) to ask him if he was able to make a statement and I got no reply. A month later I sent another email to Alan Davey and this time I got a reply from someone in his organisation who said that he was unable to reply to me at this time.

That person trotted out a few of the things about the Arts Council's policies, which I already knew, which was that they themselves have an internal policy, a dignity at work policy, but that it is not their business to interfere in the internal management practices of the organisations that they fund.

So this gave me another shock actually. It seems to me that the Arts Council had been able to take a lead on other issues, [like] the issue of unpaid internships, which is very topical at the moment.

It seemed to me to be very odd that the Arts Council couldn't produce a very simple statement along the lines of "we have a dignity at work policy, we would like to proactively encourage all arts organisations to have a dignity at work policy, in fact we expect this from organisations that we fund".

When I recently put a question to Liz Forgan (current Chair of ACE) during her live, online chat, I and three others did the same thing, all of these questions were ignored. not one of them was even introduced into the chat room. So if you don't have access to a list of the questions that were already asked, you would never know that that question was put forward.

Article19: Why do you think they won't speak to this issue?

Franky I'm puzzled, I was very disappointed of course because this is a very important issue. I get stories all the time and calls for help from arts employees, not just in the UK, because this research has never been done anywhere else. People who want to know what they can do about this problem, who they can go to?

For the Arts Council to say nothing, to refuse to even engage or use the word [bullying] made me think, I wonder what they are afraid of? The answer is, I don't know what they are afraid of. It did occur to me that if perhaps they made a statement about bullying they might then receive a lot of complaints from people, which they might not be equipped to deal with.

I think saying what their position on this is could actually give a lot of encouragement to arts workers out there. Who, if they are being bullied often find they have no voice, especially if it's a manager doing the bullying.

A board will often go into denial, especially if they appointed the manager in the first place, this is very common.

Witnesses are [also] afraid to speak up. I had correspondence this morning from a museum worker whom I've talked to before and [this person] is completely isolated, because colleagues are afraid to back them up. The HR people, who should be backing them up, are simply defending the management position. This person is becoming more and more stressed, and is now starting to have physical symptoms and I'm sure this person will be in counselling before too long.

It's a terrible thing that people [in that position] don't have any support or any backup. The key establishment body in the subsidised cultural sector is not speaking out.

Article19: What steps can people take if they are being bullied at work?

Well, there are a few things that people can do. If they're a union member then they should be able to get help from their trade union. Trade unions are getting better at dealing with this, it's not something they've always done, but it is something that they're beginning to offer training in it for their stewards.

That's a start.

Some people try HR departments but in my experience I think it's very difficult to get effective help with a complaint. HR are in a peculiar position of having to uphold the management position. So they're not really there to defend employees. Some people have tried organisations like the Citizens Advice Bureau. That's a bit hit and miss though, it's a bit of a postcode lottery. If you're in the right place and they happen to have people who know about employment law who you can contact then you've struck gold.

But, if you're not and those sort of people are not available to a local CAB then they're not going to be very much use.

What I've been doing is working with another colleague, who is a coach actually, and who has been reporting to me increased numbers of stories from leadership training courses. We're trying to put together between us some sort of programme, some sort of organisational model that will actively help people who find that they are being bullied.

There are a number of support groups, a number of online forums but frankly, at the moment, it's very hard because even the Equality Act doesn't cover bullying. It only covers harassment if it relates to certain protected characteristics, like race or age, creed or colour. Unless someone is bullying because you are part of one of those groups then you don't have any protection in law at all.

"Bullying in the Arts: Vocation, Exploitation and Abuse of Power" is available from Gower Press. You can use the following code to obtain a discount for the book: G11EKP35

[ Jackson-Quigg Associates ]

  • Anne-Marie Quigg

    I entirely agree with you. The museum worker I mentioned in this
    interview is being bullied by a colleague, and in my book I cite a
    theatre director who was subject to 'upward bullying' by an employee. The position is not key, although people with power generally have the capacity to inflict greater damage.

  • Mara

    It is a misconception to believe that bullying only occurs 'downwards the pyramid'. Colleagues bully colleagues; employers and managers are also bullied by workers...

    It just takes a parasitic, egomaniac, and highly manipulative person to behave in such a way, regardless of their position.

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