When I first started talking to people about workplace bullying, many would use military references, drawing upon images of hard-core drill sergeants and demanding officers. I’ve never felt comfortable with that instant association, perhaps because most of the career military folks I’ve known have struck me as being fair, even-keeled, and self-disciplined individuals.
Nevertheless, it would be equally wrongheaded to assume that the military services are immune from such behaviors. After all, we’re talking about people. Indeed, U.S. Air Force captain Genieve David recently speculated that high suicide rates in her branch of the service may be attributable, at least in part, to workplace bullying (link here):
Last year the U.S. Air Force lost 84 lives to suicide and this year the statistics have surpassed that. You’ve seen Wingman down days, taken the suicide awareness training, and have read commentaries from senior Air Force officials on taking care of each other–but no one has talked about bullying in the workplace as a possible factor that may contribute to these feelings of hopelessness or considering suicide.
I am going to hazard a guess that workplace bullying is no more or less frequent in the military than in many other demanding, high stress vocations. However, when workplace bullying does occur in the armed forces, it may well be harsher and more aggressive due to the chain-of-command structure of the military and the macho culture of everyday military life. I further would guess that bullying behaviors are especially severe when the target is a non-conformist or is regarded as a boat rocker or whistleblower.
This is a topic worthy of deeper investigation, but for now, here are two stories about bullying in the military:
Bullied out of the Irish army
At the 2010 International Conference on Workplace Bullying & Harassment in Cardiff, Wales, I attended a compelling session on whistleblowing and bullying that featured retired Irish Army captain Tom Clonan. Clonan shared with us the disturbing story of how he was retaliated against after submitting a report to his superiors about extensive levels of bullying, sexual harassment, and sexual assault directed at female soldiers by their male colleagues.
Clonan had done the report as part of his doctoral research. As a result of this research project, he was subjected to an ongoing campaign of ostracizing by fellow officers and publicly accused by the military of fabricating his study.
It took an inquiry by the Irish Minister for Defence and Tom’s own libel suit against the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Staff for the Irish Defence Forces (eventually settled) to vindicate his name. Nevertheless, his military career — until these events on an upward trajectory — was in shambles. He now is the Security Analyst for The Irish Times and a lecturer at the Dublin Institute of Technology School of Media.
A pioneering career run aground
Last year, Time magazine ran a piece (link here) detailing the career of U.S. Navy officer Holly Cowpens, whose style of command was so abusive that when her ship ran aground, the sailors on board were singing “Ding dong, the witch is dead,” knowing that such a major screw up could result in her being relieved of duty.
Time‘s Mark Thompson continues with the story:
Graf’s next command, as captain of the guided-missile cruiser U.S.S. Cowpens, would be her last. Graf was relieved of duty in January, after nearly two years on the Cowpens, for “cruelty and maltreatment” of her crew, according to a blistering Navy inspector general’s report obtained by TIME. The report has rocked the service to its bilges because it calls into question the way the Navy chooses, promotes and then monitors its handpicked skippers.
Hat tip to eBossWatch for the Capt. David blog post.