Neoliberalism makes bullying invisible. It focuses on the removal of professional agency so that, as workers, we are increasingly positioned as incompetent, unable to perform the minutiae of our work without adequate oversight, and unable to make decisions about our work.
Along with the removal of professional agency is the increasing lack of transparency in decision-making supported by an increasing presence of management-speak. Egregious behaviours are justified using a range of management-speak (“operational reasons”, “management prerogative”, or “operational efficiency”).
Researchers suggest we need to challenge these terms when they are used and demand transparency in decision-making. For example, Alvesson and Spicer suggest a range of amusing exercises: bullshit bingo, stupidity-spotting competition, dictionary of anti-management jargon and an anti-stupidity taskforce among others.
I argue workplace bullying has emerged as a neoliberal managerial tactic aimed at destroying the voice of workers...
It is important not to let this kind of humour obscure the erasure of bullying in our neoliberal organisations. For example, as workers we are expected to accept without question that massive structural changes in an organisation will result in “operational efficiencies” without any evidence demonstrating how this might happen.
If you are unhappy about what is going on in your workplace, if you claim you are being bullied, then clearly you do not understand, and the solution to your unhappiness is for you to go to the relevant training courses so that you will learn to manage change better, so that you will improve your personal resilience and learn to manage your stress levels better.
The neoliberal discourse denies workplace bullying is a systemic issue, and instead positions bullying as inter-personal problems between individuals. Along with this is the neoliberal intent to break unions, precisely because unions provide a voice for workers.
I argue workplace bullying has emerged as a neoliberal managerial tactic aimed at destroying the voice of workers; to shape and control them to conform to the ideal neoliberal citizen. This is particularly problematic when it is operationalised in universities because the higher education sector is supposed to operate in a kind of check-and-balance way in society; it is supposed to provide the forum where new ideas can be generated, where critique can shape the development of society.
Instead we see an increasing imposition on higher education staff to conform. Srigley writes: “Freedom of speech is granted only within the mandate, not to speech about the mandate. Which means that all discussion of foundational questions is denied.”
Along with this is the increasing casualisation of the academic workforce which means that over 60 per cent of academics cannot afford to offer any critique as their next contract depends on management goodwill.
Where does this leave us? Many years ago, Freire argued that the solution to oppression was to work together, to collectively name unacceptable behaviours, to challenge them, to refuse to comply and continue to offer alternatives.
There are other ways of operating in this world as an individual and as an organisation. We do not have to accept inequity. We do not have to accept workplace bullying. We do not have to accept de-professionalisation. Every one of us is a valued member of a democratic society. We share our voices and demand to be heard.