“No methodology is in place in any of these areas to compile statistics,” says Ms Ryan, a mother of two from Cork who now lives in Renmore.
“This makes it difficult for policymakers and governments to determine what changes in terms of policy, procedures and legislation are required, in a constantly changing environment.”
Her book examines everything from the interpersonal dynamic of bullying between two people at school or in the workplace to that which takes place at national, institutional or organisational level when the balance of power between individuals and the establishment becomes so unequal the former group becomes powerless and submissive.
“The book should be useful to people who are experiencing or have experienced bullying or who know someone close to them who is being bullied, in school, for instance,” says the author. “It should help give understanding and provide more language on situations that citizens find themselves in, when they are powerless to do anything after being bullied. It also outlines the industrial relations and legal avenues open to individuals to take action if they become victims to such behaviour.
“It gives a synopsis of all national and occupational group surveys completed in Ireland which show significant levels of bullying. Surveys conducted by the European Foundation are also published for the first time, showing Ireland’s position among 34 other European countries on physical violence, bullying and harassment, threats and humiliating behaviour and verbal abuse in the workplace.”
Bullying is often at its cruellest in schools when children trying to gain acceptance by their peer group become “targeted and persecuted publicly”, she says.
“The term bully-side has come to be used because of the association of suicide with bullying, with the particularly tragic case of Irish girl Phoebe Prince from Co Clare who died in Massachusetts, bringing public attention to the problem.”
When little is done to prevent or address bullying this teaches people that it is part of the value system and that it is OK to mistreat people, she outlines.
“The ‘Bystander Effect’ develops. Workplaces, schools and institutions, become bystanders when they do little to address or prevent bullying. Policymakers who provide poor or weak legislation for victims and bystanders also risk becoming bystanders themselves by failing to support people to step up rather than step out when they witness bullying.
“To support the bystanders regulation is often what is needed as otherwise the bully is the one making the rules. The “bystander effect” has become known as the “Genovese Syndrome” which refers specifically to cases where individuals become bystanders to the horrific mistreatment of others but do not offer any means of help to the victims.”
Terri Ryan was prompted to write the book because bullying has become increasingly prevalent in society. “Having worked over a few decades as a science teacher and senior manager I had gained insights on several levels into the interpersonal dynamic of bullying behaviour in the schools and the workplace. Teachers told me children as young as six had started to bully in school.
“I started life as a science teacher at 21 and decades later when my children went to school I saw little change in the protection of children within the school environment. I was shocked to learn in 2009 that a survey conducted by the Department of Education showed that 150 schools had refused to participate in the “Stay Safe” programme for children [a personal safety course aimed at giving them skills to recognise and resist abuse/victimisation] introduced in 1993. While I presumed this programme – to protect the most basic of children’s rights was mandatory – it made me question the policies on protection against children being bullied in schools.”
During a period working in the public service she witnessed a particularly bad case of bullying, she says. “A very proud man with 30 years’ work experience was repeatedly humiliated and stripped of his dignity and responsibilities in front of his colleagues, which made me question the existence of policies and legislation that protected employees from this behaviour.”
She states while the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 places obligations on employers to prevent as far as is practically possible improper conduct in the workplace, and makes it an offence not to discharge that duty, it remains “unusual” to find anti-bullying policies in place.
She claims often little is done by management or unions to provide training or awareness of what is unacceptable and improper conduct in the workplace.
“Generally, victims experience bullying and a dispute arises before management and unions take an active role. As a senior manager working for a multinational company I worked abroad every year for a period of a few weeks where respect for employees in the workplace was part of the management function. In the Scandinavian countries prevention of bullying is a priority and the workplace or school becomes the third party held responsible when employees or pupils become exposed to bullying.
“When nothing is done by management to prevent or reduce bullying, through training awareness, and the organisation and management of work practices and workloads, employees who witness bullying or who find themselves bullied by colleagues or management are up against a culture of bullying when they object to the behaviour.”
Ms Ryan insists that anti-bullying policies introduced after an incident of bullying is reported are often little more than “token policies” if the overall ethos of bullying is not addressed.
“The purpose of enterprise is to make a profit and employers who provide bully-free zones for employees should not present a conflict as both practices should be compatible. In surveys conducted by the European Foundation 34 European countries are ranked according to the degree to which physical violence, bullying and harassment, threats and humiliating behaviour and verbal abuse occurs in the workplace. In the survey conducted in 2010, Ireland was ranked in the top seven places in three out of these four categories.”
She says research into instances of bullying show that a “weak management function” is the single biggest cause of workplace bullying.
“Surveys in specific occupational groups such as nursing, the health sector and the teaching profession have particularly high rates. While these professions were traditionally looked at exclusively as vocations, they have now evolved into complex management functions with little or no management standards or input on the management and prevention of bullying behaviour which is an occupational hazard in these professions and can interfere hugely with the service they provide.”
Bullies, Victims and Bystanders costs €10 and is available from Charlie Byrne’s and Dubray bookshops