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07 Sep 2016

Why there’s no place in PR for bullying bosses

Posted on September 7, 2016 by

Bullying in the PR industry

It’s not just in schools where work needs to be done to stamp out bullying.

I heard a troubling tale this week about a PR agency that seems to have its staff working in a climate of fear.

Account handlers terrified of the abuse they’ll get for not achieving the coverage targets being imposed on them (AVEs are de rigueur in that office, it seems), and fear of being shouted at, and publicly ridiculed, by the boss for that crime – or for almost anything else, apparently.

Clearly I’m not going to get into the whys and wherefores of that agency’s working environment (because I’ve not experienced it first-hand). I’m more concerned with the damage to our industry that bad bosses can have. Because, unfortunately, they exist in the PR world as they do in any industry.

Let’s assume you’re a young PR professional and this agency is your first job in the industry. What impression is being created of a life in PR? If you’re in tears at home because of the way your boss spoke to you that morning, or you’ve woken up dreading another day in the office, what are the chances your PR career will be short-lived?

We have enough problems attracting and retaining talented PR people. It’s a tough job requiring a wide range of skills, so we really don’t need bad bosses making that recruitment and retention job even harder.

And it’s very easy to say “if you don’t like it, just leave”. Easy to say, harder to do.

Let’s go back to the example of that young PR exec in their first job. How do they know every boss and every agency isn’t like that? Jumping from frying pan to fire doesn’t sound like a great career move. Maybe it’s better to stay, keep your head down and hope the boss’s fury isn’t aimed in your direction? Yeah, that sounds like a great plan.

But if you do decide to leave, what do you tell your new employer? That you didn’t like your previous boss? That you were bullied? That the office atmosphere was poisonous? All very valid reasons, but you’ll probably worry about what that might say about you. Will your new employer be thinking “oh, here comes trouble” (they won’t, by the way – or at least they shouldn’t).

So why do some people choose not to jump down the escape hatch when they have the opportunity?

I wish I knew the answer. Maybe they love their clients so much they’ll put up with anything? Maybe they’re so used to working with a volatile boss they think it’s both normal and acceptable? Maybe, although I hope not. We don’t want those traits to be passed on.

I do know that such behaviour certainly isn’t acceptable, and I’m convinced that in the PR industry it’s not commonplace, either (and the appearance of agencies of all shapes and sizes in the various ‘best employer’ league tables would seem to attest to that).

Plenty of people will have worked for people they don’t get along with, or bosses they don’t respect. Getting screamed at on a frequent basis, however? I’d like to think that’s a very small minority.

But regardless of how uncommon it is, it’s important we stamp out this type of bad boss behaviour.

Employees can play their part. There’s some great advice here on how you can deal with it, and if that fails you should head for the exit. You don’t deserve to spend every working day in a toxic environment.

Clients shouldn’t stand for it, either. If your account team has a bullying boss, you can almost guarantee they’re not going to be achieving the same results as a team that’s looked after, respected and properly motivated.

And if more employees and clients started to vote with their feet, those bad bosses would soon get found out.

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