RE: Norway Corporate Corruption
The Office of the Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg
Directors of PGS Exploration UK Limited: Rune O. Pedersen, PGS ASA CEO and President; Gottfred Langseth, PGS ASA CFO and EVP; Christin Steen-Nilsen, PGS ASA Chief Accountant
PGS ASA General Counsel, Lars Mysen
PGS UK Head of Legal, John Francas
Former PGS Exploration UK Limited Secretary, Carl Richards
PGS ASA Data Protection Officer, Daphne Bjerke
PGS ASA SVP Global Human Resources, Terje Bjølseth (Oversaw grievance process)
PGS UK Human Resources Manager, Gareth Jones
PGS ASA EVP Operations, Per Arild Reksnes (Oversaw grievance process)
RE: Norway Corporate Corruption
Dear Madam Prime Minister Erna Solberg,
I am a USA citizen who worked for the UK affiliate of Norwegian company Petroleum Geo-Services ASA (now PGS ASA) [PGS]. The directors of PGS Exploration UK Limited (PGSUK) are Norwegian parent company executives. PGSUK sponsored me and my dependent family members on a Tier 2 visa from 26 September 2010 through 31 December 2013. My employment was terminated through my signing a settlement contract agreement (SCA).
I believe that my human rights have been violated and that I was defrauded, defamed, illegally terminated from employment and then blacklisted for being a whistleblower. What I ask for is a thorough and fair third-party police investigation into my allegations. Much of the evidence backing my claims is posted on http://marineseismicsurvey.com/news/. I regard my postings as protected public disclosure, or whistleblowing. PGS governance and personal data processing practices have been proven to me to be non-compliant, dysfunctional and corrupt. Further, I do not want to believe that the Norwegian corporate executive class is above the law. Are they? (Sadly, thus far it seems that they are.)
My writing to you is an act of desperation. Sadly, I have found PGS corporate governance and compliance avenues of redress unresponsive to whistleblowing allegations of PGS executive criminal behaviors. I am a victim of these alleged crimes. In September 2018, PGS executives who serve as PGSUK directors, Rune O. Pedersen, PGS CEO and President; Gottfred Langseth, PGS CFO and EVP; and Christin Steen-Nilsen, PGS Chief Accountant, filed a criminal complaint against me in Thailand, where I was living with my Thai wife and children, for publications that I contended to be protected public disclosure, or whistleblowing. An additional similar claim was filed against me by former PGSUK secretary, Carl Richards. I believe that the claims filed in Thailand were illegal extortion intended to silence accusations made by a victim of their crimes. PGS bypassed the confidentiality clauses of my original employment contract, as well as the terms and conditions of my termination settlement contract which were both governed by the Laws of England. The UK Public Interests Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA), which protects whistleblowing, is referenced within the contract confidentiality clauses. To avoid criminal prosecution in Thailand, I was compelled to sign another agreement that would “gag” my continued whistleblowing and essentially take away my rights under English law and contract. I contend that the claims forwarded in Thailand breached the terms and conditions of my original employment contract (OEC) and subsequent termination settlement contract (SCA) and otherwise violated the confidentiality clauses which included PIDA protections. I haven’t the financial resources to defend myself. However, through online publications, I have challenged the legality (Norway/UK laws) of the claims put forward against me in Thailand. PGS refuses to answer my concerns clearly and definitively. Instead, I continue to be harassed and threatened with further criminal and civil prosecution in Thailand by the acting (English company) PGS UK Head of Legal, John Francas.
My persecutor’s have virtually unlimited resources at their disposal to make my life hell. How can I fight back alone? The terms and conditions set forth in the Thailand agreement seem to also violate similar protections provided through Norway’s Working Environment Act (WEA). My employment contracts with PGSUK were governed by the laws of England. As recently as June 2018, Francas signed a letter where he reaffirmed the terms and conditions of the SCA were still in effect. So, how did I end up defending claims translated from Thai language to English in Thailand last September? I first published my allegations of PGS wrong-doing online the LinkedIN™ Pulse platform on 3 July 2015. Any online publication which breached the confidentiality terms and conditions of the SCA should have been actionable. In fact, it would have been irresponsible for the directors and secretary to not take such actions against publications which disparaged PGS or any of its agents. Failing to take action until September 2018 seems to be negligence and a breach of their fiduciary duties. It would also be a betrayal to any named subject who was wrongly accused of non-compliant and/or criminal behavior within my publications. PGS never took any official action against me for numerous publications that were posted between 2015-2016.
Throughout 2016, I intentionally made the PGS legal compliance office aware of my concerns and e-mailed them links to my many blog postings, and even sent complete articles for them to comment on. Pedersen was employed as PGS General Counsel during this time. I am convinced that Pedersen was directly involved in coordinating the original fraud as well as the creation and uttering of forged documents. Pedersen has never even commented nor challenged my published online allegations. Many of my publications focused on then PGS CEO and President and former PGSUK director, Jon Erik Reinhardsen (now Equinor Chairman of the Board) accusing him of wrong-doing. Reinhardsen and his team never responded! Similarly, Reinhardsen has never defended his decisions and actions nor stood-up or felt the need to exonerate falsely accused employees since 2015. But, in September 2018, my publications, including a published and unanswered Open Letter to the Petroleum Geo-Services ASA Board of Directors, is criminal defamation in Thailand? No one on the Board of Directors for PGS can answer simple questions? It seems legally impossible that such claims can be forwarded in Thailand without being thoroughly investigated and vetted for compliance in Norway and/or the UK. It demonstrates that directors of PGSUK were not engaged for several years. These PGSUK directors should be removed and replaced, is the message that I get. It is worse than that. The former and current directors need to be investigated by law enforcement for their covering-up alleged illegal and violent behaviors perpetrated against me and my family. This is shameless behavior. No agent of PGS had ever even contacted me officially prior to the delivery of criminal claims to my wife’s house in Thailand. This is not professional behavior aligned to published PGS Core Values and PGS Code of Conduct. It was violent and mean-spirited. And I will not be threatened into silence by incompetent and corrupt company officials, even if they reside in “corruption-free” Norway.
In the USA, citizen’s have no qualms about speaking truth to or criticizing those who hold political power. What is often more dangerous for whistleblowers is speaking truth to those with entrusted corporate power. I could have never imagined the events of the past five years that have exacted such a toll on me and my family. I am depressed and losing hope. I have told PGS this. Nonetheless, PGS just want me to be silent and let them live in their fantasy world of never being caught. When I submitted my workplace grievance in 2013, I elaborated on the health issues and risks to organizations that workplace bullying and harassment cause. PGS withheld health advice and care following my delivery of the formal grievance in 2013. Rather than behave ethically and in accordance to the published policy, procedures, and values, PGS leadership decided to place my health and the health of my family at risk before accepting responsibility. This is sick and evil behavior. It violates the Norwegian Corporate Governance Code of Practice. But, somehow, Reinhardsen escapes investigation and inquiry and ascends to become the Chairman of the Board for Norway’s largest corporation which is largely state owned? Such allegations are a blemish to the reputation of Norway and should be investigated. If the allegations are true, and I believe that they are, then Norway is operating in a mythology which disrupts the reality of real-time commerce. We cannot accept, globally, despotic and corrupt corporate leadership. There may be a lot more corruption in Texas. I do not know. What I do know is that I am a Texan who believes he is a victim of crimes perpetrated by executives of a Norwegian company. My justice requires the attention and help from the Norwegian government. Please help me.
Steven D. Kalavity
PGS ASA Corruption is Protected through the Cooperative Abuse of Power
One trick is to pull a little bait and switch on your own brain. It goes like this: When the urge comes to do the counterproductive thing, don’t resist. Instead, replace.CARL RICHARDS
When a person trusts that a system designed to defend, respond, protect, or seek justice will do its job after an interpersonal trauma, and when that system either chooses not to respond (omission) or worse, chooses to lay blame at the feet of the victim (commission), institutional betrayal occurs.
According to research by psychologist Jennifer Freyd, PhD, when wrong-doers are confronted with their acts (which may be criminal), they show a pattern that can be abbreviated as DARVO, which stands for Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender. Victims of wrong-doers have a need for the truth to be revealed and for justice. But, the proclivity of the toxic and narcissistic organization is to suppress such truth, protect the wrong-doers and evade responsibility by denying the truth and attacking the victim. Therefore, rather than a victim making specific public allegations that will invoke such focused attacks and reprisals, it is perhaps safer and more productive to illuminate patterns of behavior, grounded in research, that will enlighten and protect potential future victims of institutional betrayal, while giving credence to current victims’ narratives. In institutional betrayal, power and prestige within the institution is preserved through protecting the wrong-doer over the victim. Victims place their trust in institutions based on expectations that the institution is worthy of their trust. Stakeholders in the institution trust that the published institution core values, policy, and procedures are in place to protect their own, as well as other institutional stakeholder’s, vested interests. After all, the main objective of publishing such information within business proposals and annual reports is to inculcate such feelings of trust in the values of the institution and its leadership. When institutions do not respond in accordance to their espoused values, they betray this trust and in such cases, this betrayal of trust can be more traumatizing to the victims than the initial perpetrated wrong-doing, according to Betrayal Trauma Theory (BTT).
Mobbing is the nonsexual harassment of a coworker by a group of other workers or members of an organization of the one who is targeted. The term psychological terrorism is also used to describe workplace mobbing. Mobbing is not a conflict over facts and reasons. Mobbing is a form of genocide where the objective is to eliminate the target that poses a threat to the power structure, influence, and reputation of the institution, and more precisely, its leadership. Workplace mobbing tactics often are used against whistleblowers – workers who report concerns about illegal or unethical behavior in the workplace. Mobbing requires the support of top management. Mobbing cannot be sustained without the permission and/or direction from top-management. The damage done to a person through workplace mobbing is an injury, not an illness. Fundamentally, it is a workplace health and safety issue. Therefore, there is always an effort by top-management to skirt responsibility and accountability for their intentional or negligent injurious actions. The objective is to make the workplace so miserable for the target that they will leave voluntarily without a fight. Workplace mobbing and bullying results in a number of health injuries and consequences for both the target, as well as his/her family. The fabric of relationships within the organization is damaged and the victim of mobbing has suffered an injury that can be life threatening. Victims of mobbing are documented to become ill and die prematurely or commit suicide. Mobbing is violent health-harming abuse perpetrated through the abuse of authoritative power and a profound breach of trust.
Gaslighting is an insidiously cruel form of sociopathic narcissistic psychological manipulation and abuse often practiced to gain power and control over a target. The objective of the gaslighting is to cause the target to lose their sense of identity and perception of what’s really happening around them. The term originates from the 1938 stage play, Gaslight. In the play, a husband dims the gas lights while he searches for jewels that he believes were hidden in the attic by his wife’s aunt, who was murdered in the apartment which his wife inherited. The wife notices the dimming gas light, as well as other strange goings-on. The husband tries to persuade her that she is imagining the light change, and other things. The objective is to replace the truth with a lie. The term gaslighting is now used colloquially to describe efforts to manipulate someone’s perception of reality. Gaslighter’s will use persistent lying, denial, misdirection and contradiction to destabilize the victim’s beliefs and make them doubt their perceptions of events. In the workplace, for instance, an individual who reports or discloses being harassed and bullied, or other workplace behaviors that may contradict their understanding of policy, or even the law, may become targets of gaslighting. Gaslighter’s may try to make the victim believe that no wrong-doing has occurred and that they are just coping badly with “work performance” or other unrelated issues. Gaslighting and workplace mobbing, or gang-bullying, can be applied together in a collective effort to force the target out of their job in retaliation for disclosing and revealing such wrong doing. Mobbing and gaslighting are tactics used to force whistleblowers out of the workplace.
DARVO also exists on an organizational level. When a company or organization is complicit with the accused who employs the same strategy, it’s “institutional DARVO,” and what Freyd calls a form of betrayal.Ashley Judd
And leadership is even more frightened that they might lose power, so any signs of “trouble” can easily be perceived as threats to that power.Janice Harper, PhD, Just Us Justice
What is the difference between lying and fraud? At what point does telling lies go from being a poor decision to a violation of the law? Fraud is an intentional false representation intended to mislead the receiver to their detriment. Courts will often look at what the liar(s) gain if the lie is believed and what harm is caused to the person who relied on truthful information. If the victim believed the lie and acted as if it were true and suffered some sort of injury because of the betrayal in trust, there could be liability for fraud. Denying or ignoring the truthful narrative of a victim is a lie and a betrayal, and a particularly pernicious form of denial is DARVO. Organizations, like people, have an incentive to protect their ideal image. Organizations have attributes and personalities formed by the decisions and actions of directors and top-management. It is these decisions and actions which form the institution or corporate character. This is not to be confused with the published corporate values, mission statements, and annual reports, which are created to form an ideal perception of the corporate character. Narcissism describes a self-absorbed person. Narcissists are prone to frequent lies and exaggerations and enjoy getting away with violating rules and social norms. Narcissists project a false idealized image of themselves and use or control others as an extension of themselves. The narcissistic organization becomes similarly self-absorbed in protecting an ideal identity above dealing with contrasting reality. When agents of organizations gang-bully and gaslight targets in the workplace, it above all involves a conspiratorial myriad of intentional false representations intended to mislead and change the targets perception of true events to their detriment.
Participants in the atrocities and genocide carried out by Nazi Germany justified their actions on following the orders of superiors, or obedience to authority. Could it be that the millions of accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? In 1961, US Yale University psychologist, Stanley Milgram, began his famous experiments into analyzing obedience to authority. The Milgram Experiment wanted to determine if ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being. Obedience to authority is ingrained in us all from the way we are brought up. People tend to obey orders from other people if they recognize their authority as morally right and/or legally based. This response to legitimate authority is learned in a variety of situations, for example in the family, school, and workplace. The experiment concluded that ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being. Ordinary kind and humane people can easily become sadistic under certain conditions. When someone in a position of leadership makes it clear that certain individuals are undesirable, these targets may be mistreated, shunned, and even falsely accused of misconduct and crimes. If people believe that they will not be held accountable for their actions, and the more they see others acting aggressively without sanction, the more likely they will behave aggressively. However, if people were reminded that they had responsibility for their own actions, almost none of them were prepared to obey.
It is important to remember that the heinous genocide and elimination of those deemed socially undesirable during of the Holocaust was not only legal, but also a principal objective of the authoritative Nazi regime in power. There was, and would have been, reprisal and punishment to those citizens who thwarted those objectives. Nevertheless, many charged in carrying out these objectives were punished, and even executed, following the Allied trials that followed the conclusion of the Allied victory of World War 2. In the Milgram experiment, teacher subjects were allowed to dispense punishment to “learners” under the direction and authority of the Yale University researcher. Yale University’s reputation provided additional allegiance and obedience to follow these instructions. Further, the teachers were not enfranchised in the Yale University organization. They were not fellow researchers with an understanding of the experiment or knowledge of human psychology. Mobbing and gaslighting behavior may be authorized by leaders – those holding authoritative decision-making power – of organizations, but those who follow the sole instruction of authority are also agents who have pronounced their commitment to uphold laws, organization policy, and organization values.
We should never forget that everything Adolph Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.Martin Luther King, Jr.
Retaliation against whistleblowers is common and severe and includes negative job performance evaluations, micromanagement, isolation, loss of job, and blacklisting.Kathy Ahern, PhD., RN, Institutional Betrayal and Gaslighting: Why Whistleblowers are So Traumatized
Gang-bullies and gaslighter’s breach all of these commitments and provide their allegiance to corrupt wrong-doers with authoritative power. Categorically, this not “professional” behavior. Beyond this, the law and organization policy most certainly advocate the intervention by professionals to not follow lawless, arbitrary and capricious authority that can seriously endanger the health and well-being of a coworker. For any policy not to state this would be malpractice. (This was not the case in Nazi Germany.) Joining the mob and protecting corrupt leadership may enable employees to secure benefit and promotions for helping management eliminate a “difficult” employee – the whistleblower – or the target of discriminatory or abusive treatment. Isn’t this bribery for the purpose of perverting the course of justice? Anyone who threatens the narcissistic delusion of the organization has put themselves in jeopardy. In a safe and functional organization, disclosures are handled according to both the law and policy. Whistleblowing tends to refer to disclosures which are not handled appropriately and result in acts of retaliation and reprisal against those who make protected disclosures. So, why is providing protected disclosure – or whistleblowing – about organization wrong-doing so dangerous and damaging for professionals who do so, when just the opposite should be true?
When what should happen is quite the opposite to what the employee who discloses wrong-doing is experiencing, cognitive dissonance is created. There is a betrayal of trust which undermines one’s sense of reality and confidence. Most whistleblowers disclose with the belief that the organization leadership will be just as troubled by the reported behavior as they are. The whistleblower has been promised by the organization that disclosures will be handled fairly and effectively. It is a legal and fiduciary promise made by leadership. When the whistleblower begins to see the published proclamations as false assurances and is at the receiving end of unabashed reprisals, this distresses the whistleblower immensely. Many whistleblowers experience long-term Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). Disclosing organization wrong-doing often implicates higher level executives, directly or indirectly. DARVO occurs when the perpetrator, which could be an organization, literally accuses the victim of doing something specific that they did. For instance, if you accuse perpetrators of defamation for evaluating your performance arbitrarily and not in accordance to the organization performance management system, as is common for workplace bullies and the mob, the perpetrator will deny the bullying and claim your accusations are defamatory. The organization will protect the improperly empowered wrong-doers. There will be no fair investigation or resolution, in contradiction to the written policy. The victim of harassment/bullying by the mob will likely be terminated and blacklisted, all the while the narcissistic organization will preserve the myth of being guided by high values and fairness. This is an orchestrated deception.
Betrayal is very threatening to our survival as humans. When former colleagues and professionals assist in the elimination of the betrayed target, it comes as a shock. It is very painful and confusing to the target who cannot understand what’s going on? The betrayed target is likely to be enraged at the trusted institution and fellow employees who have breached their trust and demonstrated cowardice and lack of moral fortitude. Once former colleagues align themselves with the immoral mob, there can be no redemption. An initial moment of guilt may occur with the initial small betrayal. This is followed by anger at the target because being angry with the corrupted power structure and calling them out is too risky. The anger is fueled by fear and guilt that they have become accomplices in evil and compromised their own principles by betraying the target. Following the initial betrayal, the subsequent lies and betrayals increase in intensity. The problem is that eventually the betrayals will be discovered. The mob must create justifications for their decisions that support the false narrative of events aligned with the corrupt power structure that oversaw the gaslighting and manipulation in the workplace which was orchestrated to eliminate the target. The mob would like to frame the targets reaction as unhinged, when it is entirely normal for a betrayed person or victim to act as a betrayed person or victim. The participants within the mob must collectively maintain the mythological institution identity or face internal or external legal reprisals and accountability. They do this knowingly to protect a hypocritical and corrupted power structure and false institution identity at the expense of the victim.
Every life is a test but, in the workplace, few are tested more than whistleblowers. The act of whistleblowing is a comprehensive test of the whistleblower’s values, loyalties, and above all their self-worth. The whistleblower who survives, survives these tests.K. R. Sawyer, The Test Called Whistleblowing
Whistleblowers are “not” wimps. They are mighty men and women of valor as Jesus Christ was when He overturned the tables of “The Den of Thieves” who were using His Father’s House to make money.Margaret Kannaday, Jesus: The Whistleblower
Mistreatment of workers in the workplace has always existed. At the same time, more recently a growing attention has been given to issues such as workplace harassment, bullying, and mobbing. In 1976, Carroll M. Brodsky, a psychologist and anthropologist, opened the discussion of workplace abuse with his book The Harassed Worker looking at the outcomes and accidents from worker stress and exhaustion. In the mid-1980s research by psychologist and pedagogist Heinz Leymann began further investigating workplace stress and introduced our modern concept of workplace bullying and mobbing. Workplace bullying and mobbing are identified as principal workplace health and safety hazards. Workplace environments where mobbing and bullying occur have been antecedent to both the Piper Alpha (1988) and the Deepwater Horizon (2010) offshore oil rig disasters. The Piper Alpha disaster cost the lives of 167 offshore workers and was the deadliest offshore disaster. The Deepwater Horizon is the largest offshore environmental disaster and it also cost the lives of eleven (11) offshore workers. Workplaces environments where there are feelings of economic uncertainty from downsizing and restructuring leave fewer people to do more work and also make the competition for positions intense seem to fuel harassment, bullying and mobbing cultures. While the cyclic oil and gas industry that employs geo-services professionals is not unique in terms of harvesting workplace conditions conducive to workplace harassment, bullying and mobbing, but is especially susceptible during down cycles which exacerbate uncertainty.
Much of the research work by Freyd focuses on sexual offenders and identifies a form of institutional betrayal, which is a negative reaction when an assault is reported. This negative response by the organization adds additional trauma to the victim beyond the interpersonal violation. The comment that is often heard, “The rape was bad, but what was even worse was how I was treated after the rape occurred.” Institutional DARVO occurs when DARVO is committed by an institution (or with institutional complicity). Institutional DARVO is when an institution minimizes – sometimes to the point of ignoring – the harms done to the victim(s) and frames the alleged perpetrations in such a way to blame the victim and protect the perpetrators. An example of institutional DARVO would include to institutional leaders responding to disclosures by gaslighting victims into thinking they do not have a sufficient understanding of policy and practice and that there was no non-compliant or illegal behavior. In the case of bullying and mobbing, the ruse of “poor performance” is often used as a justification for mistreatment. Institutions may also obstruct the victims redress through outright lying about policy and legal obligations of the institution. Institution betrayal really boils down to leadership corrupting the processes of redress in order to avoid culpability. The institution does not follow their own rules and decisions are made with arbitrary caprice.
Milgram demonstrated the power of authority over the minds and wills of ordinary people. Milgram’s experiment was conducted following the trial of Otto Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Eichmann was executed in 1962. The trial was followed closely by the media and was the inspiration for several books. One of the more famous books was written by Hannah Arendt. Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to describe Eichmann. Banal evil is characterized by a belief that what one is doing is not evil, rather, what they are engaging in is a behavior that is, or has been, normalized by the society in which they reside. The horrors of the Holocaust, to which Eichmann assisted through overseeing the deportation of many of the Jewish population to the Auschwitz concentration camp, resulted in the murder of about 75 percent upon arrival. Eichmann was loyally following the laws and carrying out the evil objectives of the Nazi regime. Institutional betrayal and acts of psychological violence in the workplace, such as harassment, mobbing and bullying is different. Those who follow the evil dictates of authority are usually acting against the policy and laws. Such “professionals” are actively and willingly complicit in the destruction of the victim’s professional life and reputation, as well as the family and loved one’s who depend on their betrayed victims. These acts are evil. Such behavior is only normalized through the indifference of legal authorities to pursue such evil institution leadership and mob participants. Scientific research has determined proclivities and patterns followed by abusers and criminals. Now, institutional governance bodies and law enforcement must actively embrace the research and the body of knowledge it provides to aid victims. For institutional governance and law enforcement not to do so is a further betrayal to victims and a miscarriage of justice. Being a victim or doing the right thing should not be dangerous.
The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.Hannah Arendt
Consecrated persons, chosen by God to guide souls to salvation, let themselves be dominated by their human frailty or sickness and thus become tools of Satan.Pope Francis, 2019 Sex Abuse Summit
First Published on LinkedIn Pulse, 5 June 2015
Challenging Paradigms of Culture and Safety
The most deadly offshore accident happened in July 1988 on the Piper Alpha platform in the North Sea. Learning about this accident is a right-of-passage for many of those working offshore in the oil and gas industry. The disaster costs the lives of 167 workers and billions of dollars in property damage. In terms of environmental damage, the Deepwater Horizon platform operating in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 was the worst offshore environmental disaster of all time. Eleven workers lost their lives. Offshore work is technically challenging and dangerous. But, what makes work most dangerous, offshore and onshore, in terms of health and safety is not the challenging engineering and technical requirements of daily operations, but the way safety culture is communicated and demonstrated through the decisions made from the more comfortable executive offices. As management guru Peter Drucker aptly phrased it, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The importance of culture to workplace safety cannot be understated. There can be no safe workplace without a strong safety culture.
In a United Kingdom Trade Unions Congress (TUC) survey, workplace safety representatives rated the top health and safety hazards facing UK employees. The five most frequently cited hazards in 2014 were stress, bullying or harassment, overwork, back-strains and slips, trips and falls on a level. Workplace bullying can cause significant psychosocial risk to workers including stress, anxiety and sleep disorder and directly or indirectly impacts all of the top hazards listed. TUC defines workplace bullying as offensive, intimidating, malicious, insulting or humiliating behavior, abuse of power or authority which attempts to undermine an individual or group of employees and which may cause them to suffer stress. TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We may sometimes joke about health and safety culture, but it’s no joke when you become the person lying awake at night from stress, made ill through long hours, a lack of control over your work or bullying in the office. Employers and managers need to do more to identify and reduce risks and to provide support to employees struggling to cope.” Since workplace bullying is fundamentally a culture and management issue, how employers address workplace bullying would be a key factor in identifying and promoting a safe workplace. Given the TUC survey findings, one would hope that organizations lauding their commitment to health and safety would see and act on these identified hazards and improve workplace culture. Many workplaces are quick to sign-off on requisition orders for ergonomic chairs and steel-toed boots. But, boots and chairs are not culture, they are but cultural ornaments. When it comes to addressing a culture of bullying, the sad truth is that most often the response from organization management is much different.
Bullies are easily identifiable by some or most of the following characteristics: public humiliation, name-calling, gossiping, teasing, withholding information, ignoring someone, preventing access to opportunities, imposing impossible standards or deadlines, failure to give credit, repeated reminders of mistakes, manipulation, denial of wrongdoing, pitting folks against each other, arrogance and verbal abuse. The literature about workplace bullying suggests that bullies are threatened by their targets in various ways. Bullies seek out people who are vulnerable and to deal with the threat, bullies seek to control, contain, and eventually remove the threat, all the while getting off on the torment they are causing. The threat can actually be the target’s productivity, skills, talent, or their popularity. The target inadvertently shows the bully’s inadequacies. Targets may have a strong conscience which all but drives them to speak and act truthfully because they cannot act in any other way. Therefore, the target must be put in their place. The objective for most bullies is to force out the targeted employee, and the majority of the time they succeed. They tend to be zero sum players who want to “beat” the target rather than find a win-win solution. Bullies impede the targets opportunities progress within the bully’s domain. Targets of bullying are often very loyal to the company, but they want to be treated fairly with dignity and respect. Targets can also be whistle-blowers raising health and safety concerns or those bringing corruption to light.
Targets often continue to be tormented even after they are forced out of their jobs. Bullies, through their enablers in human resources, will manipulate work history and personnel records. Top level executive vice-presidents and senior human resource managers will take time away from improving the enterprise and devote to damaging careers of targets. It is not beneath them to forge and falsify employee records, as well as remove any of the targets complaints or disagreement with the management actions regarding health and safety or other issues. Occupational health practitioner reports and recommendations addressing the targets general health and stress levels are ignored and removed, thereby presenting a cleansed “official” false narrative describing the true culture and events leading to the targets departure. Such suspicious responses and actions to complaints sound more like those of top management wanting to hide a crime rather than improve organization health and safety.
In the UK construction industry it was brought to light that companies cooperated to blacklist employees from any future employment within their trade often for bringing up health and safety concerns. One might think that the knowledge of the poor culture of a competitor could be an advantage. But, competitors are not working together to solve the most significant health and safety issues, but rather cooperating to silence workers trying to improve the safety culture within their organization and trade sector. In such a climate there is no possibility of attaining a true safety culture. Organizations cannot support bullying and at the same time proclaim to have a safety culture. The two cannot exist together. It is also a daunting task for targets to challenge organizations who protect and even promote bully behavior. The salaries and savings of most workers are miniscule compared to multimillion dollar projects. Daily rates of large construction projects, offshore vessels and platforms are hundreds of thousands of dollars a day. The cost of abandoning values and policy, and even losing high performing workers, seems minimal to the bullies and the top executives in the organization who support them. Of course, it is beneficial to the bullies personally when they do not take responsibility for the toxic cultures that they create and enable. Often these bad decisions catch-up with organizations later through declining revenues, reduced productivity, and lower quality of goods and services.
Most certified management systems, such as OHSAS 18001, place a very high responsibility of success of such initiatives on top management. System outcome is predominantly the result of how the system is designed and managed. How work is completed and by whom, what processes and equipment is used, evaluated, and maintained are under the domain of top management. In fact, top management defines the business culture. Quality management guru W. Edward Deming many years ago demonstrated to organizations and workers the relative significance of the system over the individual worker in producing outcomes. The empirical results time after time from his famous Red Bead Experiment demonstrated that workers are responsible for less than 15% of the outcome (including mistakes) and the system design and management over 85%. However, in the real world of management there is a tendency to scapegoat and attribute mistakes and problems to individual workers. Deming believed that the common practice of annual performance appraisals were one of the deadly diseases inflicting damage on enterprises and encumbering success. Bullying tends to be counter cultural behavior focused on an individual or groups. Organizations that allow bullying are creating entropic systems where outcomes are very unpredictable impacting communication and operational processes and outcomes.
It is always the top level executives that herald reckless counter culture behavior by ignoring company values. Top management make the key cultural decisions that empower bullies and punish those who actually follow and promote the company values and policies. Potent counter culture behavior can be delivered through a small catheter from the bully’s executive silo spreading cowardice, mistrust, deception, and manipulation – the qualities of a bully’s true character – throughout and beyond the organization. It is the behavior and decisions formed at the top of organizations that defines the company culture. Workplace culture is the foundation for enterprise strategy. At its base, workplace culture is the clear sense of purpose and shared core values that guide all the organization decision making. Once toxic behaviors are allowed into the stream of decision making, outcomes become uncertain. Destructive management operates above the organization values, policies, rules, and protocols allowing eddies of counter culture behavior into the decision making stream. In research from Australia bullying is correlated with corruption and other criminal behavior. Human Resources who usually publish and disseminate the official company values and policies are not worth a nickel within organizations where top management support bullying. In fact, Human Resources generally will not confront top management and willingly support the counter culture even when it contradicts their own articulated values and policy. Sound decision making is dependent on the flow of knowledge. Values, policy, and the best processes and methods need to be communicated throughout the organization. Decision makers depend on timely high-fidelity information. If the basis of decision making, which is what core values and policies are supposed to be, is corrupted by strong counter culture eddies this makes all decisions less certain and higher risk. The impact of ignoring, or even worse enabling, small sized work group silos of counter cultural behaviors can be significant.
Research cited in a Harvard Business Review study found that among doctors only 15% of decisions were evidence-based. It is believed that it is less than this for company managers. More often, high level decisions are made based on vanity and self-interests and not guided by core values and what decisions are best for the company shareholders, employees, and customers in the long run. Decisions are not determined through the analysis of relevant data. A management system establishes the policies, processes and procedures to form decisions and reach the outcome objectives within the constraints of the organizations core values. It also produces relevant data. Management of the system is predominantly responsible for enterprise performance. Those with business acumen understand the importance of workplace culture to the bottom-line. When a company that I worked for reorganized out from bankruptcy part of the renewed-success plan was for that company to establish and practice “core values.” The economic transformation was initiated through the CEO at the time and top-level people communicating their commitment to these core values to every office and vessel. The key is that top management must walk-the-walk, which is the true workplace culture. Unfortunately, this counters a common and easily accepted management paradigm that it is okay for companies to simply project their safety propaganda through printed policy manuals, brochures and quarterly presentations of objectives and values without effectively addressing the real safety issues. They may record episodes where individual employees were not wearing protective clothing or following written procedures properly. Workplaces do not always investigate “why” or “what” impacted the employee’s decision. Real safety culture is embedded within the daily communications and interactions throughout the organization. Ignoring “isolated incidences” of workplace bullying, as they were referred to during the Deepwater Horizon investigation, is tantamount to ignoring a doctor’s warnings of isolated occurrences of cancer. Workplace bullying is indicative of a weak and embattled culture. This toxic behavior can pollute an entire organization. Workplace bullying is destructive counter-culture behavior focused on targeted individuals and groups where there is a disproportionate power dynamic in play. Workplace bullying was a contributing factor to the Piper Alpha and Deepwater Horizon disasters, some say a significant one. Workplace bullying has also been at the base of corporate financial disasters such as Enron.
The outcry from the public regarding the construction sector blacklisting has led to targeted workers and citizens requesting that organizations that participated in the blacklisting be barred from working on future public projects. Perhaps the leadership that approved and implemented the blacklisting would be a better target of scrutiny and outrage. Punishing the company’s would punish already compromised workers even more. But, there is a valid point to withholding business from organizations engaged in unethical or counter culture behavior. Such organizations are simply higher risk to do business with from a commercial and operational standpoint. They are less likely to deliver positive high quality, safety and environment outcomes. There really is a reason that organizations seek certified management systems. It serves their customers best interests who want stable processes and predictable outcomes. But, they have to be practiced and not documented systems. Bullies are often zero-sum negotiators whose objective is a self-interested win-lose short term outcome. They are not win-win negotiators by nature. In the modern era of complex projects involving a variety of expertise and often even different companies working together, sales and contracts need to deliver cooperative win-win solutions. Zero-sum negotiation is more associated with the shady used-car salesman trying to unload the lemon from the car lot. They are not thinking about the potential loss of future business that is likely the long term fall-out of such a transaction. There is always a deception when doing business with toxic organizations. Organizations are aware enough not to publish the counter-culture values and state that they stifle innovation by isolating and mistreating employees who make our insecure managers feel uncomfortable with new ideas; when employees make complaints about our safety or production processes we torment them until and after they leave; and our top managers ignore ethical core values that do serve their own self-interests.
Business is fundamentally built on trusting relationships. Cooperation and team building is also established on trust. The challenge for companies involved with complex projects is not only to create and maintain strong values and culture within their own organization, but that the same core values extend to contractors and other key stakeholders. Strong central values committed to knowledge flow and cooperation aimed toward continual improvement will enable operators to have confidence in the decisions being made offshore amongst all agencies involved, and also enable better decision making from onshore. When managers are provided with knowledge that is correct and not based the way things should be, but on the way that they are, better subsequent decisions are made. This can only occur in an environment where strong values and trust cooperate to reach the best operational and commercial outcomes. Pretending that the organization abides by core values when they do not cannot create a strong and ethical organization with all its intrinsic benefits. Not acknowledging weakness in the company such as bullying is unethical and dangerous. Even if the courts can be fooled the company culture cannot. Leaders must understand this, because it really cannot be about them when lives and the environment are at stake. Perhaps a better indicator of strong company culture for reference by customers and shareholders is evidence of how companies respond to isolated incidences of bullying and harassment. Unfortunately, sometimes the greatest danger is simply telling top managers that things could and should be better.
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