IT professional services firm condemned for ‘bullying’ during interview

05 February 2019 7 min. read
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A technology solutions provider based in Greater Manchester has come under fire for its recruitment process, after the complaint of a woman interviewed for a job at the firm provoked outrage on social media. Olivia Bland described her "brutal" two-hour grilling from the IT consultancy’s CEO as “humiliating” and “bizarre”.

Web Applications UK describes itself as a ‘technology partner’ which provides software and consultancy services to businesses in the UK. Specialising in Travel Sector software, the firm is a Microsoft Gold Partner and Cisco Select Partner. On the recruitment page of its website, the firm has written, “We understand that physical and mental health is important. That’s why we offer over half a dozen benefits that can help you have positive well-being.”

Despite this, the firm based in Oldham is currently facing a sustained backlash regarding the approach of CEO Craig Dean to interviewing potential recruits, following the complaint of one woman reportedly left on the “point of tears” by the experience. Marketing professional Olivia Bland was applying for a role with the professional services firm when she alleged Dean, who was interviewing her, picked on her music tastes and scrolled through her Spotify account, before asking "a lot of personal questions", and "tearing apart, line by line" her written submission from the application process.

IT professional services firm condemned for ‘bullying’ during interview

Bland’s account of the interview was published on Twitter on January 29th, and has since been shared more than 35,000 times by users of the site, while garnering more than 100,000 likes at present. She has also been the subject of a number of high-profile interviews, including on BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Radio 4.

The reaction on social media saw the company widely pilloried, meanwhile. One, named Chris Sloann, who appears to be a former employee, suggested “many of us may have experienced this type of bullying dinosaur approach in the work place, especially by so called “Senior Management”. I certainly have and made sure I left the business sharpish. Bet staff attrition rate is high there.”

Another Twitter user claiming to be a former staff member going by the handle @jimmboyp, claimed, “I’ve worked at this place – seeing your response to his (notorious) bullying attitude empowered me to make a twitter account and share my support.”

With the level of attention the story has now attracted, Web Applications UK has been forced to issue a statement on the front-page of its website from the Board of Directors, addressing the incident. According to the piece, the Board “strongly condemns any form of bullying or intimidation”, and carried out an internal investigation, independent from Craig Dean, including interviewing all employees who were directly involved in the recruitment process.

Following the inquest, the statement concluded, “The Board is satisfied that no bullying or intimidation occurred. Nonetheless, the Directors are extremely saddened by this incident and the impact that this has had on the individual concerned, particularly as we are a company that takes great pride in nurturing the aspirations of young people.”

While the Board has backed its CEO in this case, Craig Dean himself took to social media to publish an apology. On his Twitter account, Dean said, “Hearing someone is in pain is heart-breaking; hearing that they feel you are the cause is devastating… I have no desire to see anyone hurt; and can only apologise if anything I've done has had that effect.”

Alleged power play

With high levels of employment, a growing portion of the population now approaching retirement age, and net migration from the EU dropping drastically ahead of Brexit, British companies are often said to be facing a ‘talent shortage’. With human resources departments across the country apparently racking their brains to come up with ways to attract the necessary skills in a tightening recruitment market, a great many reports and analyses have been produced suggesting how companies might do so.

The advice offered often ranges from flexible working, to improved mental health support, to vibrant and innovative workspaces. Ultimately, though, these reports skip around one inescapable truth which has plagued the wealthy of Britain since the aftermath of the Black Death; when labour is in demand, bosses will inevitably need to pay a premium on work they need completed. For most companies, the idea of paying more for talent, no matter how badly they need to, sits badly with them, as it means they can extract a lower level of profit – albeit a more than healthy one, still – from their labour pool.

Bearing in mind that having allegedly been told repeatedly that she was not of the standard required, Bland claimed was offered the role, critics have also been quick to point out that this could be seen as a method of deterring members of staff from demanding the appropriate levels of pay and compensation for their efforts. According to Bland’s own account of the events on Twitter, this could have been a bid “to intimidate and assert power" over a job candidate, something which would make it significantly more difficult for them to make demands from their prospective employer.

IT professional services firm condemned for ‘bullying’ during interview

Bland added, “The two hours I spent in that room with Craig Dean yesterday felt like being sat in a room with my abusive ex – it was two hours of being told I’m not good enough, and detailing exactly why. And to top it off, there came the job offer.”

She went on to add none of the “perks” of the job could now tempt her to take the role, which she believed she was supposed to “feel privileged to be good enough for.” She concluded that there were also a number of reviews of the company which made similar allegations regarding interview conduct.

Indeed, on Glassdoor, a number of reviews do make reference to negative interview experiences. One noted that the CEO had grilled them “quite thoroughly, mixing insightful criticism and advice with no holds barred,” and warning “this criticism might be too much for some people”. Another stated that “my impression was sufficiently bad that I withdrew my application via the recruitment agency without waiting for the result of the interview.”

Above all then, the incident seems to encapsulate much of the heralded sea-change in the UK employment market. It remains to be seen how this will impact the company in question moving forward, as it looks to pursue talent in the future, while prospective employees are capable of picking between employers according to their online reputations.