THE BLOG

Is It Normal to 'Get Bollocked' at Work?

03/11/2014 16:48 GMT | Updated 02/01/2015 10:59 GMT

The new series of The Apprentice treats viewers to a fresh set of self-congratulating, "entrepreneurial" contestants having their egos shattered each week by Lord Alan Sugar's acerbic insults. Such gems so far have included: "You are a total shambles"; "May I respectfully say to you: shut up" and "Never mind the bleeding Wolf of Wall Street, you're more like the bloody poodle of Petticoat Lane."

Lord Sugar joins a league of TV real and fictional bosses such as Gordon Ramsay in Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares and Malcolm Tucker in comedy The Thick of It who would make any hardy professional quiver with their less than sugar-coated words. (To be fair Lord Sugar's wrath may be withering, but at least he's not of the vein-popping, purple-faced school of bollocking bosses like the latter two.)

But in reality, is it normal to get bollocked at work?

The one time I got bollocked in a job entailed an over-the-phone, five-minute blasting from a seriously cross senior staff member, to which my only response was to repeatedly mumble "erm", "sorry" and "there must have been a miscommunication."

The fallout was peculiar. At first I actually felt a little bit liberated: I'd been in constant fear of messing something up - and now it had happened it didn't seem that bad. I laughed about the shouty executive with colleagues, and secretly felt pleased that at least I hadn't been reduced to a red-faced mess hiding in the loo.

But the initial bravado quickly turned into frustration that I hadn't stood up for myself, amplified by the discovery that the-thing-that-had-supposedly-gone-wrong actually hadn't been a problem at all. And for the following couple weeks I certainly felt my confidence had been battered.

In the media industry, the combination of inflated egos and tight deadlines is no doubt partly to blame for the not-uncommon stories of people getting shouted at, snapped at over insignificancies, and reduced to tears by stressed-out superiors.

Whatever your chosen industry, many of us will have witnessed or been on the receiving end of a manager who has thrown their toys out of the pram.

But the sort of behaviour which will be all-too-familiar in many workplaces may well be deemed "unacceptable" by Unite the Union's Dignity at Work Partnership. One guide for workplace representatives produced in 2007 includes the following among many examples of "unacceptable" behaviour: "shouting at a target", "criticising, belittling or patronising a target"; "pointing and wagging of fingers"; "screaming"; "having a temper tantrum" and "going purple in the face".

The danger is that this sort of work culture might be considered "just the way things are"; unchangeable, or could easily become bullying behaviour if such incidents repeatedly happen.

"An organisation with a toxic culture, where shouting at colleagues or using inappropriate language is seen as the norm, is not going to be a healthy or productive place to work," says Dr. Jill Miller, research advisor for CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development), the professional body for HR and people development.

"If this kind of behaviour isn't addressed it is likely to breed a blame or fear culture where people will be less satisfied with their work, have a low opinion of their managers and business leaders and will ultimately want to leave their organisation."

Where managers need to address a problem with an employee, in the first instance, having a "quiet word" with them may be the best action; "just to talk through the issue", Dr Miller explains.

Unless you're in the army, I think it is extremely rare for a work situation to warrant adults insulting, shouting or losing their rag with one another. Screaming at someone in particular is surely a sign of weakness: you've lost control and it's an emotional response in the same way that crying is.

There will always be individuals at work who struggle to keep their emotions in check. But just because getting bollocked is normal in a particular office doesn't mean it's OK, especially if the way you're told off leaves you feeling humiliated or upset. Of course, there may be times when bosses are within their rights to pull you up if something's gone wrong, and in these cases, perhaps we can take a leaf out of the book of the thick-skinned Apprentice contestants, and go away determined we are going to be the best at the next opportunity.