For Recruiters

The Insider: When bankers behave badly

The City's not for wimps, but neither should you tolerate being bullied, says Hugh Karseras, author and senior banker.

Does bullying go on in the City? In my experience, yes, but don't expect to see trading floor managers hurling chairs at hapless underlings. Bullying in the City is often a lot more subtle, a lot harder to evidence and a lot more insidious.

It's important to differentiate between someone who is normally a decent banker but who occasionally blows up in response to specific situations and someone who is persistently vindictive. Losing one's temper is never good, but one needs to be realistic - everyone can boil over under the type of stress not infrequently experienced in the City. In my experience, when good bankers behave badly they generally recognise it, are big enough to apologise and everyone moves on without lingering ill-feeling.

Where there genuinely is a case of persistently abusive behaviour from a banker the good news is that most banks have formal HR procedures. The bad news is that pursuing a formal procedure will raise questions about you as a complainant - people will question your competence and infer weakness. I encountered a bullying situation recently, where this was exactly what happened. The competence of a junior banker who was bullied was immediately challenged. The bully's defence of his own behaviour was that it was frustration in response to under-performance.

What are the options?

First, you can choose to do nothing but bide your time until able to change your team or department to minimise interaction with the bully.

Second, you can deal with the bully head on. The best way to do this is to remain calm and professional. Be factual, describe their negatively charged behaviour and ask the bully to articulate what is causing them to behave in this way and then what can be done about it.

Third, you can seek informal advice and help from respected colleagues and see if someone is able to deal with the problem behind the scenes.

Fourth, you can pursue official proceedings through HR. It is crucial to keep a log of specific examples of bullying behaviour including times and dates. Witnesses will help too. Pre-empt any impugning of one's competence with hard evidence of strong performance, e.g. direct feedback from superiors. A compelling case against the bully is essential.

Finally, a word of warning: no matter how strong your case, these kinds of issues can be glossed over - particularly if the bully is a valued revenue contributor.

· Hugh Karseras works in a top-tier bank in the City and is author of 'From New Recruit to High Flyer: No-nonsense Advice on How to Fast Track Your Career', published by Kogan Page.

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  • St
    Stuart Dixon
    8 December 2007

    Unfortunately people seeking solutions through HR will stand a good chance of exacerbating their problem as HR have a habit of targetting the bullying target and not the bully.

    Well known fact. Ask anyone who has tried it.

  • An
    Anonymous
    18 September 2007

    There is no way to 'fight back' if the bully is your boss. After leaving a couple of jobs in the past because I refused to put up with bullying, I experienced the worst ever case - and didn't see it coming until it was too late. How naive can one be after 25 years in the City ?

    In short I was accused of under performance and when I tried to defend myself I was threatened and fired. I decided to stand up for myself and although I got a pay off, it was not enough to compensate for not being able to get back into a decent job subsequently.

    You are right - the City is a small place and not all of us can afford to retire at 45 ! I wish I had realised what a mess I was making of my life when I let myself in for this career ! This site is a breath of fresh air as I realise it is not only me who has experienced this.

    Can anyone suggest what to do next ?

    And please let's not see lots of comments of the 'only losers don't survive' type - sometimes it is simply not possible to defend yourself - this is what power is all about and if you need to earn a living you will always be vulnerable.

  • Be
    Bent but not broken
    29 August 2007

    After 7 years with a Big 4 Bank, I was ranked 5th out of 2,300 in my field. As one of the organisations top performers I didnt stand for stupidity.

    One year my bonuses were witheld whereas my white counterparts were given more favourable treatment. I instigated the grievance process after informal attempts for concilication failed. During the next 12 months I was invesitgated, bullied and harassed then suspended on trumped up charges.

    The Grievance process lasted 16 months and was an utter whitewash. I applied for Employment Tribunal. En route to Tribunal, I was eventually reinstated with all charges dropped.

    The Tribunal was a farce. The Bank made it as messy as possible with my witnesses being bullied and threatened with their jobs. Other witnesses pulled out after being being victimised. Evidence was destroyed, withheld and in some instances fabricated.

    My case was proved beyond any doubt but the Tribunal unsurprisingly and in a show of complete obedience to the hidden hand found in favour of the Bank. Not a single issue was upheld. This continued through the Appeals Tribunal and to the Court of Appeal.

    Better to fight and lose then to not fight but it has a cost.

  • Li
    Life is for the Living
    13 August 2007

    I agree with "the winner and the sinner". After many many late nights working for stooges at CS IBD, I realised that they were silly talentless risk averse old men who were too afraid to take a risk in life and test themselves - what is IBD? selling advice and services. managing processes. no capital at risk. hardly rocket science.

    they hire the best and brighest, get you young and full of energy, and hope that they can exploit you enought whilst you are trying to work out the new environment you have stepped into - best using your youthful energy whilst you have it on new endeavours - start a business; work for a private investor; take some chances in life.

    When I heard one senior woman (recently divorced) describe IBD as "wasting the best years of your youth", that put it into perspective for me. I am running my own investment fund, still work hard, but I keep the upside and dont have to deal with insecure jerks with social disorders. Don't let your own naivete and ignorance perpetuate the abuse - if you go in with open eyes and know the score, fine - its a free country. But dont let yourself be used, abused and discarded like so many others - inform yourself, then make choices.

  • th
    the winner and the sinner
    31 July 2007

    We should ask ourselves the following question: What for all this effort and pain? Money? Let's be serious... money alone cannot justify it! I used play chess professionally some years ago and this is my 2 pence worth piece of advice: when the game of chess finishes, all the pieces return back to the SAME box. Considering this, maybe some of us should put our talent down the entrepreneur road or choose different battlefields more carefully. I would suggest to abandon the bullies and the companies that allow their behaviour to rot together their miseries.

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