Are bullying and harassment prevalent in charities?

Public perception is often that charities are likely to provide safe and positive work places as compared to profit driven large private businesses. Recent examples suggest, however, that such a view may not always be accurate and that the charitable sector needs to ensure that it has in place good anti-bullying and harassment policies.The head of leading domestic abuse charity Refuge has recently been accused of fostering a bullying atmosphere within the organisation. She has also been accused of using charitable resources for her own financial gain and of hiring family members for sensitive roles.

A letter signed by 13 members of staff alleges that they had been subject to bullying and belittling treatment by senior management. Workers refer to a toxic atmosphere which led to 18 out of the 20 members of the fundraising team leaving in the course of one year. In response, Refuge say that the matter was reported to the Charity Commission and the case was closed following investigation. They have, however, carried out a review of workplace practices.

Allegations of this nature have recently been more common place in a charitable context. The mental health charity Mind rejected claims by staff in April 2018 that there was a culture of bullying. It conceded, however, that management practices needed to be strengthened and it must do more to support members of staff with mental health problems.

In October 1998 Cancer Research UK announced new rules to crack down on bulling and harassment. This followed an investigation by the Guardian which found that nearly 300 academics across the UK including senior professors had been reported for bullying. It was noted that junior staff and students were especially vulnerable to bullying.

An independent review and workplace survey commissioned by Save the Children found that one in four members of their staff suffered from discrimination or harassment. The review was set up following allegations that Save the Children had failed to investigate sexual abuse and inappropriate behaviour by senior staff members.

A similar survey of RSPCA staff found that almost one in three members of staff had experienced some form of bullying in the previous 12 months.  Thirty seven percent of staff had witnessed someone being bullied in the past year. The most likely source of bullying was senior managers.

Even U2 lead singer, Bono has been caught up in a bullying scandal. He was forced to apologise following allegations of bullying within his ‘One’ charity which was set up to fight poverty and preventable diseases. It was alleged that senior officials had treated staff as ‘worse than dogs’. Bono admitted that the organisation had failed to protect some of its employees at its Johannesburg office in South Africa. Bono stated that “we are all deeply sorry. I hate bullying. The poorest people in the poorest places being bullied by their circumstances is the reason we set up One”.

The irony which Bono alludes to is that organisations which, by their very nature, are set up to protect people and bring about positive change, are frequently failing to protect the people closest to them – their employees.


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Author Nicholas Leigh

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