Bullying in state government

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Recent news disclosed that two state of Oregon unionized employees have filed lawsuits against the Department of Human Services.  The basis for their suit is a claim that their boss bullied them.

I worked about half my working years as a state of Oregon employee; the other half was spent in the private sector.  I was naïve about work with state government when I successfully applied for a state job. You see, I gullibly thought that government agencies were first and foremost dedicated to bettering the lives of Oregonians.  That belief was soon dashed; rather, state agencies generally operate to benefit the members of the in-office political party and its loyalists and campaigners who’ve been paid-off with state jobs.

That’s why a state job finds those from private sector employment in a wholly strange and dismayingly authoritarian world. Hence, being bullied by and lording over subordinates by managers is the way of life in them.  Here’s what’s surmised to be the explanation for it: Those working directly for the governor and those appointed to state agency managers, administrators and directors must kowtow and practice deference to those in a higher position, the governor at the pyramid’s apex.

Because it’s not wholly the American way, this kowtowing and deferential behavior makes for bad tempers and obnoxious behaviors that are taken out on the subordinates or the unionized rank and file state employees.  It’s human psychology that when a person must crawl on his knees, genuflect to the boss and offer undeserved high praise without a shred of verifying evidence, he who manages will become the devil incarnate.

In the private sector there’s a job to be done and when its done well and on time the difference is success or failure of a business.  In state government the “work” is mostly about serving the moneyed class and power interests through political maneuvering, one-upmanship, and devouring anyone who gets in the way of a politician staying in office for its perks and serving his rich patrons.

I never cared for obsequious behaviors for the sake of advancement and was put off by the dirty tricks used by those who’d crush anyone who stands in their ego’s way for recognition and advancement.  It was actually worse than responding to managers and others up the food chain by practicing subserviency to get ahead.

One aspect of this unhealthy world that reminded the observer of India was the caste system among state workers.  Those who had received a plum administrative job by virtue of campaigning and contributing to a politician’s election, having not been trained or experienced to do the job they were given, had acquired along the way, from, it’s guessed, excessive schmoozing, a superiority complex that meant there would be no social interactions between themselves and their subordinates, resulting in an India-like caste system of untouchables by rank and file underlings.

Yes, given a definition of bullying that could find acceptance in an Oregon court of law will probably present a clear and present challenge.  After all, based on what’s known of the suing employees’ grievances, a manager who’s too aggressive, constantly sarcastic, overly critical, practices discriminatory behaviors and uses offensive language, should be brought to account for his ways as those factors do add up to classic “bullying” behaviors.  Unfortunately, based on personal experience, there are precious few among the state of Oregon administrator ranks who do not bully, while the culture works against humanists, defined as anyone who cares about the health and well-being of his public employees.

(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer. His column appears regularly in the Keizertimes.)

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