In the wake of the Clarkson incident, I’m left wondering at how the UK’s workplace culture has changed, for good or ill, in the last thirty years.
For example; when I first started work, it was a common occurrence to be abused, struck, slapped or manhandled by managers or ‘senior colleagues’. It was part of the culture. You either learned to fight back, sometimes with words, sometimes in other ways, or you walked. There was no ‘constructive dismissal’, no lawsuits and the Unions have been as much use as a wet hanky. You were expected to “Be a Man” (Pray tell, what’s ‘manly’ about letting others push you around?) or “Take it on the chin” (Not this chin matey). You stayed and buckled under, or you walked. During my working life I have done a lot of walking. Probably to my detriment, but I wasn’t prepared to take the crap that was being handed out, so I walked. Bosses who thought they could bully or intimidate me didn’t remain my boss for long. Truth be told, I’ve had a string of bad or plain abusive managers and I can count the good ones on the fingers of one hand, excluding thumb. The good ones, who took the time and trouble to show how they wanted a job done got the best out of me. Those whose management technique simply consisted of shouting until you got it right by trial and error, didn’t. End of.
70’s, 80’s and even 1990’s shop floors could be rough places. Apprentices were routinely abused and beaten if their face didn’t fit, or they were slow bringing the under foreman’s tea, or looked the wrong way at the girl on the production line that someone else fancied. Or held a tool in the ‘wrong’ way. Eventually you found out who the abusive people were and learned to keep out of their way. But sometimes you got in their sights, and then there was no way but the highway.
These were people (Most of them are dead – the world is a better place) who could make the most notoriously abusive TV Chef look like Peter Pan. People with such poor communication, leadership and management skills they could not be called managers, more sheep with delusions of being Genghis Khan. And there was no pleasing them if they took a dislike to you or thought were ‘too big for your boots’. At the time I was too bright to hide my light under a bushel, too big to hide, and too dumb to not talk back, which often made me a target. Until I developed sufficient self defense skills and a sharp, sarcastic wit (And the wisdom of where to apply it) to keep me out of the more stupid workplace fights. I also learned that people who considered me a ‘threat’ would often try and maneuver me into a fight when they had a few mates handy as backup, just so’s they could give the big guy (me) a pounding, to establish their dominance. Because I was bullying them? No, that’s never been me. I don’t bully. Quite frankly the thought horrifies me, which considering some elements of my past, might actually surprise a few people. I think I became a target mostly because my abusers mistook my gentle nature for weakness, my preference for solitude and personal space as a slight. In other words “A docile git” and not automatically their best mate or toady. Nor member of a preferred clique or peer group.
That was then, this is now; physical abuse of employees is a big no-no.
This isn’t to say that there is no longer any abuse in the UK corporate workplace; it’s just changed form. Abuse is no longer so physical, the threatening behaviour from less than competent management (and fellow employees) is still there. Now it’s more sly; meetings (More like tribunals) convened to penalise staff members into compliance. False or petty complaints. Square pegs are still hammered into round holes, but now the intent is to redesign the shape of the HR hole so that no matter what shape the peg is, it can never fit. Initiative is a thing abhorred and avoided at all costs. Likewise innovation. Employees not properly trained because they’ll only leave and take their precious ‘skills’ with them. Also if there isn’t a box to be ticked, the task does not exist and must therefore not be performed under any circumstances. Non-compliance is not an option. Bureaucracy rules UK. At least this was my experience before we upped sticks and took our great leap of faith. Canada has come as a bit of a surprise because the work culture here is geared more towards cooperation.
Anyway. My last, terminal, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die final word on the Clarkson fiasco; no film set gofer worth their salt would have dreamed of not laying on some kind of hot food for cast and crew after a cold and windy day on set. They’d have shown some initiative, asked hotel management to keep a cook on standby, called a caterer, or at a pinch gone off to the local takeaway to bring back a serious curry, maybe ordered enough fish chips and pizza for the entire cast and crew. Anything but a cold spread and surly “Snot my job” excuse. And they’d have actually gone to the pub where the cast were, or at least phoned to ask people up front what they wanted to eat. Then nobody, drunk or not, would have had any excuse to go postal.