bystanders, observers, onlookers, eyewitnesses
watchers, viewers and bullying, the pack mentality
Undermined, overruled, ignored, frozen out, sidelined, manipulated, target of sarcasm? Read this

Bystanders and bullying
Onlookers, witnesses, eyewitnesses, spectators, turncoats, reprisals
Why junior staff are afraid to speak out against senior colleagues

"He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it"
(Martin Luther King)

In most bullying situations, the target of bullying finds themself isolated and alone. Work colleagues, who may formerly have been friendly and supportive, melt away and the target is left feeling like a pariah and an outcast.

There are many reasons why colleagues at work fail to come to the aid of a fellow worker being bullied. These include:

It's easy to see the parallels between the actions and inactions of workplace colleagues and how Hitler was able to co-opt so many of the German people into supporting him - those with the moral integrity to refuse were arrested, tortured and shot. Hitler was not the first dictator to eliminate anyone who objected. Rome created a great empire, not by having meetings, but by killing all those who opposed them. In the workplace, those who decline to support the bully are isolated, victimised, scapegoated, have undue constraints and excessive workloads imposed, and are then subjected to disciplinary proceedings on trumped-up charges as a prelude to losing their job (as well as their career, livelihood and health).

Bystanders can make a significant difference in the workplace (and in bullying situations in school); bullies are cowards and if they sense that someone other than their target is going to expose them, they may slink away with their tail between their legs. However, bullies are extremely vindictive and will do everything in their power to destroy anyone who can see through their mask of deceit. In very rare cases you may receive information from a bystander who wants to help but is afraid to do so publicly for fear of retribution - and fear of becoming the next target.

Fear of a bullying boss, or fear of someone in higher authority who can wreck your career, is a common reason for people refusing to speak out. Disaster and death can result. An article by Olivia Barker in USA Today on 8 December 1999 titled "4 studies aim to reduce, resolve medical mistakes" reports the USA Institute of Medicine's finding that 98,000 people die each year from medical mistakes caused by cultural and systemic problems. In many cases a junior member of staff saw the error being committed but was too afraid to speak up. Bullying by consultants is rife in health services, many of whom fit the Guru profile. [Examples: #1 #2 #3 #4 #5]

Unwillingness by co-pilots and engineers on the flight deck to speak out against the erroneous and potentially fatal actions of the pilot were a factor in several major air disasters including the BEA Trident which crashed in Staines, London on Sunday 18 June 1972 and in the world's worst airplane disaster at Los Rodeos airport in the Canary Islands on Sunday 27 March 1977. In the former, the abnormal heart condition of Captain Key and his autocratic overbearing manner (it is thought these two are connected) led to a series of errors during takeoff from London Heathrow which the flight crew were unable or unwilling to highlight or correct.

In the latter, two jumbo jets (KLM Boeing 747 PH-BUF and Pan American Boeing 747, N736PA) collided on the runway after KLM's most senior pilot Captain Jacob van Zanten commenced takeoff without proper clearance from air traffic control. Fog, confusing radio communication, Captain van Zanten's impatience to get airborne (and get home before he exceeded his duty time) plus the reluctance of the co-pilot and flight engineer to question and especially overrule the Captain, contributed to 583 deaths. Pilot training was subsequently altered with the introduction of CLR (Cockpit Leadership Resource) or Cockpit Resource Management (CRM) whereby the flight deck crew work as a team rather than an autocratic hierarchy.

Today the main issue in the airline industry (and elsewhere) is bullying from non-operational managers whose priority - and sometimes sole concern - is to achieve profits for their company. The views and needs of pilots - whose concerns are over safety or legal constraints - are ignored, downplayed or overruled. When profits and safety collide - especially in the transport industry - it's profits which may gain the upper hand, especially in times of an economic downturn.  The
safety system may, in this way, become eroded. Pilots who raise legitimate issues are therefore likely to find themselves fighting the company they work for, and being threatened with dismissal for "bringing the company into disrepute". [Example]


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