When does professional pressure become bullying?

British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is accused of being a bully.

It has been alleged that several members of his staff have called an anti-bullying hotline. These claims where made after the release of a book by Andrew Rawnsley , End of the Party, which describes the prime minister’s volcanic temper and tendency to fly into rages and yell at his staff.

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson jumped to Brown’s defence saying he is not a bully, and is only “impatient” and “demanding” of his staff.

When does a demanding boss become a bully?

Here this blogger argues, ‘There can be little doubt that being Chancellor and Prime Minister are high pressure roles and that any driven believer should be hard on himself and on others where there are failures along the way.”

But Andrew Price argues, “Bullying in the work place is by its very nature the abuse of power by those who have it to weald.”

Janet Street Porter
argues that it can be good for a man’s career to be a bully but not a woman’s. She says, “when men become angry at work they will earn a higher salary, get a better job and be more successful than bad-tempered women.”

So when does strong leadership becoming bullying? And can being a bully advance your career?

39 Responses to “When does professional pressure become bullying?”

  1. 1 Tony Palfrey
    February 22, 2010 at 11:58

    What a load of utter nonesense this story is. It turns out that no complaint is now claimed against Gordon Brown and this womans disclosures are nothing but a bit of selfseeking mischief. Had there been any truth in it I would have quoted a well known saying that goes: If it’s too hot in the kitchen go get out of it. I wonder how these ficticious complaining staff would have behaved with one of our popular, rude and arrogant and bullying celebrity chefs who are under no amount of pressure at all compared to a Prime Ministers office. If Gordon Brown loses his rag sometimes when he has idiots like “Archie Adrews” act David Cameron to put up with not to mention the entire Liberal party, I am not the least bit surprised, he is trying to run a country only just crawling out of recession and with a noticably hostile press and BBC ready to jump on any excuse they can find to make it harder..

    February 22, 2010 at 12:08

    Gordon Brown is one of those people with a double life which can be frustrating. He is the ex-chancellor of exchequre now completing Blairs final term in office thereby making him appear a final terminalist. This is frustrating because it is on the latter basis that voters will judge him during the upcoming polls. It is as much love as hate curled inside one man because of fate.
    He is a good man but he can only succeed well in public relations through image management aides at this stage of his career.

  3. February 22, 2010 at 12:52

    It is a clear violation of Minister privilege and personnel behaviour right or way of living.

  4. 4 @guykaks
    February 22, 2010 at 13:10

    I agree with my friend Arthur,but frustration should not be the basis of bullying other people..Shame on you premier for failing to control your fury & temper.I do feel bullying happens as arecipe of anger and no where to run to.

  5. 5 Linda from Italy
    February 22, 2010 at 13:11

    If the excuse that this sort of behaviour is down to pressure on the person perpetrating the “bullying”, then it is indeed a lame excuse and an indication that the person is not equipped to do the job as s/he is taking her/his stress out on subordinates. Popular wisdom has it that people are promoted to their incompetence level and this is a sure sign of that.
    If the behaviour is an attempt to encourage workers to perform better, make more effort, then it is equally indefensible as motivating people using the stick rather than the carrot is generally accepted as ineffective in many fields, including education.
    All of us lose our temper once in a while in the workplace, just as we do at home, but if it’s a regular occurrence and/or actually used as a people-management tool, it is highly suspect, not least because the people on the other end usually get completely inured to it, thus defeating the perceived objective.

  6. 6 Cabe UK
    February 22, 2010 at 13:15

    Those wishing to discredit the PM will love this story but ultimately, if You are being bullied at work you take it to the workplace – because the workplace has stuff – IN-Place – to deal with so should never need to go to the ‘media’. ….
    – Subsequently any ‘Hotline’ is supposed to be working – – like a ‘confessional’ – – on a non-disclosure capacity so, for this woman to go ‘public’ – smacks of exploitation and publicity seeking.
    = I worked for a huge multi-national Co and “bullying” to a certain level was totally acceptable because it was part of the process and hierarchy and the workforce accepted it up to a certain (albeit vague) level……. When it becomes continual harrassment or sexual then it was dealt with extremely quickly.
    The word ‘bullying’ in the workplace is also quite vague because you have to take into consideration the boss/worker relationship. Some workers won’t take ‘direction’ from someone/ thing they may not like or agree with and some bosses don’t like slackers?
    Who knows? – Possibly Andrew Rawnsley’s slow-poke friends engineered this good FREE publicity for his book ??

  7. 7 Linda from Italy
    February 22, 2010 at 13:26

    Re Janet S-P’s views, she probably has a point, although I would suggest the work field may make a difference.
    Gender stereotypes still unfortunately exist and what may be perceived as “unladylike” behaviour in a women is accepted as macho-man drive and power, ho-humm, testosterone rules OK.
    Having said that, women in positions of power are often constrained to play by the rules of the predominantly men’s clubs they operate in – who could have been more macho than Maggie Thatcher?. While I don’t want to invoke gender stereotypes myself by portraying all women as touchy-feeling, caring-sharing, what are generally acknowledged to be the higher level interpersonal skills possessed by the average woman compared to the average man, should suggest they are less prone to this sort of silly, self-defeating behaviour. Maybe as more women break that glass ceiling the rules of the game will change and displays of ego-mania will be looked on as signs of weakness rather than strength.

  8. 8 Subhash C Mehta
    February 22, 2010 at 13:41

    How can a Prime Minister of a country become a bully? He does not deal direct with most of his junior staff. Yes, of course, he may sound like one, and may even be necessary to act like one, in order to get the things done/expedited by his senior staff members. Mr. Gordon Brown minces no words when he says that the first resolution he makes, soon after getting up from his bed every morning, is to go full-throttle on the day’s work; He is a determined and dedicated leader, who needs strong/full cooperation in the present tough times: economically and environmentally (socially and climatically both). “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”; His staff must appreciate the spirit behind this present urgency.

  9. 9 Roberto
    February 22, 2010 at 13:45

    RE “” Janet Street Porter argues that it can be good for a man’s career to be a bully but not a woman’s. “”

    ——– Great, we have feminist bullying vs machismo bullying.

    Sounds like the makings for a good tabloid TV movie not to mention fodder for countless historians and psych/socialogy classes.

    Or at very least a “celebrity” box off for “charity.”

  10. February 22, 2010 at 14:31

    As far as I can gather all the greats have been so called bullies.Rather than call them bullies I prefer the word forceful.Bullying,by to-days standards,carries a vindictive label,not a leadership label.Even a cursory glance through the pages of world history will show that all the great leaders were forceful or,if you prefer it bullies.

  11. 11 gary indiana
    February 22, 2010 at 14:58

    Every time the bully is alone with a victim, I should think. They don’t “turn-off” you know. On the outside chance you meant, “What level of professional pressure constitutes bullying?” See the above.
    Relative to its overall incidence, another question comes to mind: “What do you think happens to the more intelligent socially-aware playground bullies?” You don’t think they suddenly grow-up, put on a smile and rely on rhetoric to win arguments, do you? In addition to not turning off; they don’t go away either.

  12. February 22, 2010 at 15:01

    All fingers are pointing to the tory. They sent a theif and called on the guard to arrest.. How come it is the same organisation in which Ann .W is a patron that accused the PM’s office or the deputy? And why now? We saw David Cameroon behaving the usual hypocritical way. To be an opportunist is the lowest of the low. Let’s wait and see what his people will bring up again before we vote. Unfortunately for him, all the people alleged are denying any involvement. And the organisation has just shot its foot because many people that may want to call will think twice before they do. Confidentiality issues should remain confidential no matter what. If you cannot keep a secret, don’t promise it. An the author of that book cannot sell it to me for two a penny.

  13. 13 patti in cape coral
    February 22, 2010 at 15:28

    Whether the allegations are true or not, I don’t know. One of the articles sited above talked about physical violence, foul language, and yelling, which has no place at all in any working environment.

  14. 14 audre
    February 22, 2010 at 15:52

    There can be no excuse for anyone flying into a rage. This type of behavior is immature and selfish and needs to be addressed, if it is true.

    As an exercise think of the leaders in history who (it is reported) flew into rages and remember their legacy for a moment. Enough said!

  15. 15 subra
    February 22, 2010 at 15:53

    In the opinion polls Gordon Brown is having some real difficulties, implying that he is polically in a weak position. As it happens in politics when a leader becomes weak, there is a lot of mud slinging done by opponents to weaken him farther. This is what is happening. So an indolent worker who is reproached for his laziness has nothing else than to revenge his frustration by accusing Brown of bullying. This is more serious if he is a supporter of the conservative party.

    • 16 Ifiok Ededeh
      February 24, 2010 at 13:23

      I think the boss is called a bully when he expects a lot from his staff but is not getting it. I think the problem with the Prime Minister is over expectation. But please do not call him a bully for Christ’s sake.

  16. 17 Tony Palfrey
    February 22, 2010 at 16:19

    Not one of the complaints mentioned Gordon Brown as the bully and the National Help Line now admits she has had no complaint about Gordon Browns behavior. All this rubbish relies on a reporter’s trashy book who was once as I understand it thrown out of the government anyway. Now we know that there is no complaint against Gordon Brown personally I would have thought that that was the end of the story. Naturally the media and other political parties don’t want to let it go as they would rather discuss anything other than their policies which they propose and withdraw so fast that even they don’t know what they’re policies are anymore.

  17. 18 Josiah Soap
    February 22, 2010 at 16:27

    I am glad that I am not a boss these days. Apparently anything you do that may possibly hurt someones feelings is bullying. People think work should be a social club where you hang out with your best friends. Unfortunately Britain has bred a whole generation of weak willed pathetic whingers, who can’t or won’t do their job properly. If you dare to reprimand them, they’ll have you up in front of some tribunal for bullying them. Soon along with teachers not being able to discipline kids, police not being able to reprimand criminals and now bosses “bullying” the workers this whole society is going to collapse in on itself.
    This whole vile social experiment sickens me.

  18. 19 Petr Gizzi UK
    February 22, 2010 at 16:28

    To me this is another “Tiger Woods” story. I doubt very much if physical violence was used. If he shouts so what he has a job to do. I cannot stand him but feel this is a storm in a tea cup. I bet Maggie Thatcher was more gorceful!

  19. 21 Robyn Lexington, KY USA
    February 22, 2010 at 18:12

    When the pressures of the job are high, people on all levels tend to lose their cool. Try working at a CPA firm during tax season. I would say The pressures of Gordon Brown’s job are huge. Does this excuse his behavior, yes or no? Well its kind of like the sexual harrassment on the job. I don’t mind a tacky joke at work, but other people find it offensive. Each individual has their own perception of bullying. All the places I worked, people yelled orders when time was precious and pressures are high, and it was accepted practice. Other people may not see it in that light. I think you have to have tough skin to work in any job that comes with lots of pressure.

    • 22 Moses Kimani
      February 23, 2010 at 12:09

      Thanks Robyn! Whereas I would not seek to excuse Gordon Brown’s behavior, I think there’s need for us to acknowledge the amount of pressure that someone in his position works under. Whereas for the rest of us the pressure rises in the ‘high’ seasons, his position is always running on high adrenaline. That said, I figure he should take up a sport or hobby. Or both. And he should get himself a shrink…get things off his chest from time to time.

  20. 23 jens
    February 22, 2010 at 18:14

    i had bosses shout at me and i found it rather pathetic, since it is a weakness. it is the last resort of a failing project/leader. as a consequence i mad it my principle NEVER to shout at anybody at work. it is unprofessional, disrubts work flow and humiliates people. a lot of people forget that the most important resource is a motivated workforce. yelling does not motivate it deflates. there are moments when it takes an effort not to get wound up, but my experience in general tells me that the less you yell the faster tasks are getting done. people know that when i say ‘this needs to be done yesterday” it means that it has to be done, because i made it a principle that only in an emrgency i will call it an emergency. not everything on a program is a priority.

    “walk quietly and carry a big stick”

  21. 24 Clamdip
    February 22, 2010 at 18:23

    Bullying is rampant in these governmental organizations because there is no one employees can turn to. That’s why corruption is so rampant too. Employees quickly learn to shut up, look the way and you’ll get promoted. It’s based on cronyism just like the mafia. That’s why the status quo is always the same.

  22. 25 Clamdip
    February 22, 2010 at 18:30

    Managers believe they have a right to throw up their emotional vomit on their employees. They are poor managers because they control by tirade. No one has the right to abuse people in this way.

  23. 26 Peter Gizzi UK
    February 22, 2010 at 18:50

    Hi Patti It should read forceful! it’s been a very dark day here!

  24. 27 Tom D Ford
    February 22, 2010 at 19:26

    If he wants to act like a three year old he should be treated like one.

    Some brave staffer needs to step up and tell him he needs a “timeout” just like any other three year old who throws a tantrum.

    Nobody signs up to a job to be mistreated like that. No class in school teaches kids to submit to that. No employment contract is written up to include that as part of the job description.

    That is an old and very ineffective way of managing people and it causes various problems, including sabotage of the work, slipshod work, etc.

  25. 28 Tom D Ford
    February 22, 2010 at 19:40

    In construction we call people like that “Old Yeller”, and just laugh at them.

  26. 29 Buchi Asogwa
    February 22, 2010 at 20:16

    If you’ve ever been a leader of people, you are guilty too. If you’ve ever worked with a perfectionist or a hyper active team leader, you must have experienced same. If you see it or react to it as bullying depends on your strength.

  27. 30 Clamdip
    February 22, 2010 at 20:29

    When you have a quasi military government you get people who bark out orders.
    I think the military style is a very inneficient way to run government offices, especially security. The report up approach allows managers to decide what is important information and what is not. If managers aren’t very smart at detecting threats and can’t connect the dots then you get serious problems like the underwear bomber, 911 etc. This management style actually turns off the best and the brightest and makes agencies mediocre. I’m sorry but America’s security agencies seem mediocre to me. This is what happens when employee morale suffers, the country is at risk of another attack. I don’t know how you improve this type of endemic complacency unless you start over.

  28. 31 Clamdip
    February 22, 2010 at 23:22

    Sorry, I disagree. People have acted this way because we let them get away with it. I believe it is a fundamental human right not to be humiliated and abused by others. We’ve accepted this type of behavior for too long and it needs to stop.

  29. 32 Tan Boon Tee
    February 23, 2010 at 02:13

    Can impatient and demanding justify yelling and reprimanding?

    A bully is a bully in the sense of the word, whether one is a national leader or not.

  30. 33 Colin L Beadon
    February 23, 2010 at 15:22

    Don’t know why we’ve suddenly all this noise about bullying. All English public schools used to be full of it. If you were worth anything , you fought your way out of it, and probably at some time, bullied new boys yourself too.
    I used to slug bullies in the mouth with my first, did not matter how big they were. That just about always finished it. We were mostly war orphans in those days, so there was no mummy or daddy to run to. Besides they were mostly boarding schools, and mummy and daddy, if you had them, were often very far away.
    We started playing rugby at age six, and boxed also. You got really tough, one way or another. With love, I still go back to my old schools.

  31. 34 jens
    February 23, 2010 at 15:47


    great idea, followed by a prison sentence. So you replace phsycologial violence with physical violence…..and we ask ourselves why does it not get better.

  32. 35 Kindi Jallow
    February 24, 2010 at 01:43

    If people do not have an idea about how to move a country foward It seems they turn to politics of personality, character accination, etc. becomes dry void of substance too much ado for nothing.

  33. 36 Colin L Beadon
    February 24, 2010 at 13:04

    You’d hardly go to jail with the amount of fuss about bullying going on today in England. If you stood up to who ever was bullying you, and then slugged him if you had to, you’d probably get a medle today, maybe even a knighthood, instead of a caining, like we used to get for for fighting.
    Very sadly,England has gone to the dogs. Far too many wets around. It is going to be interesting to see how Gordon finds it possible to retain the Faulklands, if the Argies hava a go again. Don’t know why I’m still so very pro British.

  34. 37 Ronald Almeida
    February 24, 2010 at 17:39

    When it is counter productive to getting the job done.

  35. 38 jens
    February 24, 2010 at 20:12


    you go to jail for assult and punching a guy in the face is an assult. plus you loose your job.

    britain is going to the dogs because it is full of jobs, who punch others in the head…..

    and faulkland will not be an other war even if you wish so…

  36. 39 Colin L Beadon
    February 28, 2010 at 13:28

    I certainly don’t wish for another war. Been there, done that, got far too many memories to prove it.
    Only the strong survive. The weak become slaves, sooner or later. Justice these days, is hardly here or there, it is quickly going out of fashion, passed its expired date. Hate to have to write that for you. Hate to have to suggest this is the new menu. We have to learn to live with it as it comes. Colin.

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