Psychologist warns firms to tackle office bullies

FIRMS HAVE been warned by a leading psychologist to tackle bullying in the workplace or face losing staff in the Nineties. Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, said: 'We imported an American management ethic in the 1980s. We know it is very competitive there with elements of winners and losers.

'The problem is that a lot of managements are geared to punishment, not reward. This was the case in the 1980s. I think too many bosses here were ready to ape the American style of management.'

Professor Cooper, whose research team has studied stress in the workplace, says bullying leads to ill-health, loss of confidence and even forces some to stay away out of fear.

'Firms can certainly lose their competitive edge if they are not managing properly and that is the key.'

As companies struggle through the recession many managers are feeling insecure, he says. 'If they feel they could be made redundant then bullying could be an extension of their own job insecurity. Certainly the whole concept of managing by punishment instead of reward has become part of our culture.

'We don't choose to praise and reward people but are easily led into punishing them when things go wrong. But I think it is changing with the UK trying to find its own management style.'

Future opportunities will give employees more choice in the Nineties, he says. 'Firms that don't manage well, that don't reward people will find the staff move on.'

Companies, he says, need to shape up to the bullying problems, carry out checks to discover how their managers conduct themselves with staff and then retrain those who are adaptable.