The Insider: When bankers behave badly

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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.

ยท 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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