Handling on-set bullying

Recently I’ve been facilitating workshops on respectful workplaces.

Some truths are emerging from the discussions with the participants. I believe that everyone’s goal is to work as a team – getting the job done, using our skills and having fun in the process.

However, bullies on set cast such a pall over any enjoyment derived from our work.

Certainly, some of their on-set behaviour can be attributed to the long hours. After a couple of weeks of 12-hour days, most people are sleep-deprived and can easily blow their fuses.

Sometimes there’s tension about the budget – enough to have people tearing out their hair looking for ways around the lack of dollars. But does that really justify the people who yell, scream, intimidate and generally make life unpleasant for everyone they come in to contact with?

The challenge in our industry (and this maybe true for others) is that the bullies get away with this kind of behaviour. They go from set to set tyrannizing everyone they encounter because they are highly skilled or save the producer money, or no-one else is available. No one confronts them. In fact, we sometimes reward people who act in totally unacceptable ways with awards like producer of the year.

So how to handle this very tricky challenge? For those who encounter it, it’s a minefield, especially if the bully is the boss.

First, acknowledge that you are not alone

Nearly 40% of people experience bullying at work. More men are bullies, but women tend to pick on other women. Bosses are the worst offenders. More than 70% of bullies are in charge. The underlying motivation for the bully is power and, as awful as it may feel, it really has nothing to do with you. Hard to swallow when the rage is being directed at you.

If you are the target, take care of yourself

Look for support from your friends and family. It’s important the bully’s intimidation doesn’t erode your sense of yourself. Often people who are bullied experience stress like anxiety, depression and panic attacks. Protect yourself against taking the attacks personally.

Begin to document the incidents that occur

Be observant of the times and the people the bully targets. Look for possible support from others who maybe experiencing the same intimidation you are. Talk with them and strategize what the best approach might be.

Bullies only continue when they get away with such behaviour. If they’re called on it by a number of people, they may change their ways. Ideally, when people in authority find out, they won’t tolerate harmful behaviour on their set. That could really hurt the bully where it hurts the most – in the pocketbook.

If you are the target of bullying on set, talk to your union rep or check out this website. It has a number of resources that could help in dealing with the bully. Or you can contact me to help develop some healthy strategies for coping with the bully.

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