This week saw the release of Keven Pietersen’s much anticipated autobiography, KP: The Autobiography, and it’s not failed to disappoint those expecting fireworks! At the top of the list of scandals is Kevin Pietersen’s revelation of a bullying culture at the heart of England’s cricket team – although, if Pietersen is to be believed, the concept of a ‘team’, of players working together, is somewhat out of kilter with the reality of a dysfunctional organisation that deliberately set out to ostracise and harass Pietersen and other players.
Harassment and bullying are serious issues in any organisation, regardless of whether the workplace is an office or field, and employers do have liability. If employers – such as the ECB – fail to deal with the cause of the problems they may deal with the legal aftermath, not to mention the bad media publicity that often arise from such accusations – such as an explosive autobiography!
In the book, Pietersen refers to coaches and star players – notably the bowlers – ruling by fear, forcing teammates to apologise publicly for minor mistakes and often yelling aggressively as a preferred method of communication. If correct, this behaviour is classic bullying characteristics, including offensive, malicious and insulting behaviour, or abuse of power, directed against individuals, intended to undermine their confidence and self-esteem.
Both harassment and bullying constitute malicious behaviour and can be both a public and secretive, depending on the bully, with some preferring an audience to legitimise their power, while others disguising their destructive behaviour by outwardly appearing pleasant and friendly.
Kevin Pietersen has portrayed a team dominated by a macho-culture, which has been allowed to manifest because of people’s fear of speaking out. Many of the team – according to Pietersen – are scared of being victims of isolation themselves, and how this would negatively impact on their careers and earning potential. Rather than speak out, teammates have kept quiet and internalised the toxic culture, with Pietersen citing teammates’ public admission of stress and anxiety as evidence of how bad the conditions really are.
However, as a player and person, Pietersen is anything but timid – a man who readily admits his ‘honesty’ is his flaw. He has publicised his repeated battles with management in his stance against bullying within the team, and has used the autobiography to speak out against those who have perpetuated the negative aspects of the England cricket team, irrespective of any further campaigns against his character from the ECB or ex-teammates.
How the ECB chose the react to Pietersen’s accusations will be interesting to watch over the coming weeks. I expect they will come out and rubbish the claims of harassment; however the extent of their reaction will probably be tempered for fear of playing in Pietersen’s hands and appearing the bully he has depicted in his autobiography. Whether they launch an inquiry into the players’ behaviour following the revelations will also be of interest. As the employer of the England cricket players and management in question, they are vicariously liable for the actions of their employees, whether the harassment and/or bullying is committed with or without the employers knowledge and approval.
To minimise the risk of liability, the employer must prove that due steps have been taken and this would include the implementation of a workplace harassment and bullying policy. I realise that sport, and particularly playing for your country, creates high-pressure, often intense environments, but when you read that any team – not just the England cricket team – is being ripped apart by cliques, alleged bullying, power struggles and victimisation, you have to wonder whether they policies are in place to prevent these problems arising, and, equally important, whether the players themselves have any awareness of the policies and protection they offer.
When it comes to behaviour in the workplace, everyone, at every level, has a responsibility to conduct themselves in the correct manner. Simply being aware that such treatment is taking place does not exempt the business from responsibility.