HR can rise to challenges of an aggressive society

Taking on the role of editor of Personnel Today has been very enjoyable. It
has given me the luxury to think about the issues affecting HR professionals in
a far more reflective way, which has determined the content of this issue.

A major concern for me is that society is becoming more aggressive. This
poses a number of problems for employers, especially those whose staff are in
the front line of customer service. I explore this in the feature ‘When is
enough, enough?’, which looks at how organisations draw the line on aggressive
customer behaviour, so that employees know when to say no in order to protect

Linked to this aggression are the increasingly adversarial systems
individuals rely on for support. As is argued in the feature ‘Bully boy
tactics’, tribunals have drifted away from their original purpose of resolving
disputes to become a forum for lawyers to flex their legal muscles. Added to
this is the growth in employment legislation, which relies on procedure and
encourages the ‘have-a-go’ culture of the aggrieved, but somehow fails to
tackle real injustice.

Exploring the issue of aggressive customers and the tribunal system, I have
been struck by the reluctance of employers to be open about their experiences.
Denying such aggression exists is not the way forward.

As a practitioner, I know that increasingly prescriptive legislative
policies, procedures and codes deliver checklist compliance but not fundamental
changes in corporate behaviour. Some of the news stories this week underline
this sharply.

Bullying at work is a big issue, and I have no doubt that some of the
aggression and abuse my front-line staff encounter, from a minority of
customers, is the same behaviour they exhibit at work, or they are meting out
the same treatment they experience at work. Abusive customers are someone’s

Leadership comes from the example set at the top. Wouldn’t it be great if,
as strong, assertive and courageous HR professionals, we could campaign to
break the vicious circle of society’s aggression and bad behaviour, allowing
the vast majority of great people to know that their company – from the very
top all the way through – will not tolerate the bully boy culture?

By Beverley Shears, Guest Editor, HR Director,
South West Trains

Comments are closed.