for Costain

Four Costain staff are mulling over the issue of workplace bullying as they sup an after-work pint. Earlier in the week Helen Green had won £800,000 in damages after being bullied for six years while working at Deutsche Bank Group Services.

“This case is good for kids to see that being bullied is not funny and it shouldn’t be tolerated,” says Stephen, who presents an engaging mix of enthusiasm and optimism.

“Bullying is a hot topic at the moment,” Clare chips in, ever the human resources manager. “We would do anything to prevent it and support anything against it. We’re developing management training on the subject, but it comes down to trust as well, regardless of systems.”

Mark agrees that it’s about creating the right culture, but that has to come from the top.

Stephen and Graham make the point that at work it’s not commercially viable to turn a blind eye to bullying. “I’ve suffered it twice in my career,” says Graham, “and from a commercial point of view if you have bullying, people leave.”

Stephen recalls a case last year when a City executive asked his PA to foot a dry cleaning bill when she accidentally spilled ketchup on his suit. An email she sent around the office about the incident got fowarded externally and became public knowledge.

Stephen laughs: “That sums it up. Let’s get it into perspective. If he’s on £1m, what’s a fiver? In a way that chap’s behaviour was bullying.”

“It can spread like cancer in a company,” says Graham. “If somebody senior does it, it can become the norm; it sets an example.”

The conversation moves on to bullying at school, and whether attitudes have changed since they were all at school. According to Simon they have: “My kids go to secondary school and the teachers are very tough on it; they have bullying policies,” he says.

“It is a worry,” says Graham, also a father. “It’s a two-way process; you worry about whether your kids are being bullied, but you also worry about whether they are bullies. At my school it was the teachers that were the bullies. The playground was great.”

Graham agrees with Stephen that it has changed over the years, and that society in general is less macho than it was 20 or 30 years ago. He turns to football to flesh out his philosophy: “I have a theory. Football is a great microcosm of life. Football mirrors society. It’s a family event now but 20 or 30 years ago it was completely different.”

Graham thinks it’s the right moment to mention the fact that his wife is Portuguese. The connection is the inevitable pub topic of England’s downfall at the hands of Portugal in the World Cup finals.

We discuss the taunting of the unfortunate Wayne Rooney. Is it right to say that he was bullied by Cristiano Ronaldo?

Graham is clear: “It’s not bullying, it’s gamesmanship. Bullying is an insidious and disgusting thing, but to my mind Rooney wasn’t bullied at the World Cup.”

Luckily, nobody brings up the names of Zinedine Zidane and Marco Materazzi …

Those present …

  • Mark Bew business systems director
  • Clare Hardwidge HR manager
  • Graham Read head of PR
  • Stephen Wells group business development director
  • Angela Monaghan Building reporter

  • Chosen watering hole: The Horse, Westminster Bridge Road - London
  • Ambience: Thinly populated with office workers who’ve sloped off early
  • Principal topics: Bullying and football
  • Drinks bought: 2 pints of Stella Artois, 1 pint of Kronenbourg, 2 gin and tonics