Barsteadworth College is a book about workplace bullying, the damage it causes and institutional suppression of the truth about both. Workplace bullying is a hot contemporary topic. It crops up in conversations between friends and colleagues and not infrequently in the television, radio and print media. It can often seem that everyone has either been bullied at work or knows someone who has. However, cases where a victim of workplace bullying has taken on 'the system' and won are few and, because of this, are big news when they happen. This is due in no small part to the routine use of 'gagging clauses' in 'compromise agreements', which bring to a close the one-sided battles that take place between bullied employees and their employers/managers. Victimised employees can find themselves placed in situations where they have no alternative but to resign and then contractually prohibited from speaking about their experiences by the agreement that terminates their employment. Thus, it is ensured that the extent of the kind of abuses described in this book remains hidden and that one of the routine social sicknesses of our time and the knock-on actual sicknesses that result stay largely invisible and unchallenged.
The author, Dr Stephen Riley, has experienced workplace bullying and its damaging consequences firsthand and, like many, he is prohibited from speaking by a 'compromise agreement'. In Barsteadworth College he therefore uses fiction as means of describing and analysing the issues: Dr Dan Ripley, a Fine Art Lecturer, moves from Manchester and takes a job at a provincial art college in the south of England. After a time, a new manager arrives and starts to appoint friends and family and to create preferential working conditions for herself and her clique. Those outside of the clique - Dan and two others - are then subjected to a wide range of undermining activities from their line-manager, including staged public humiliations at meetings, unmanageable workloads and endlessly contradictory instructions. The book describes the gradual corrosive effects of the bullying: fatigue, loss of confidence, confusion and then depression. It then describes what happens when Dan complains: the college's managers close ranks and connive with the bullying line-manager to discredit the allegations, eliminate evidence and vilify the complainant.
Ultimately, Barsteadworth College is an appeal to law and policy makers to address the current situation, which is hopelessly skewed in favour of workplace bullies and against their victims and, within this, to address the question of how, when suitable policies are in place, institutions can be made to adhere to them and be answerable if they do not.