Simply Business CEO Jason Stockwood has criticised The Apprentice for painting an unrealistic and unflattering picture of business leaders, saying it emphasises candidates’ negative qualities instead of empowering them.
The entrepreneur’s insurance company was deemed the best company to work for in the UK by the Sunday Times in 2014, and his comments come as new figures from Acas revealed workplace bullying was costing the UK £18bn.
The public body said it had received around 20,000 calls about harassment and bullying at work during the last year, with some callers to its helpline even considering committing suicide.
While Stockwood said The Apprentice is a “classic soap opera” making for good television, he also warned it was a “parody of real business”, with nothing resembling a sound recruitment process.
Writing for This is Money, Stockwood said: “The show is about an aggressive, Platonic ideal of individualism. It’s about backstabbing and intrigue, breeding a mutant offspring of Machiavelli and Mrs T.”
While good business is about “empowerment” from Stockwood’s perspective, he said the programme instead “hones in on the poor participants’ negative qualities, and does everything it can to bring them out”.
“The candidates here aren’t the business leaders of the future – they’re sociopaths in M&S suits,” he added.
The process which sees candidates fired by Alan Sugar, then thank him for the opportunity, was Stockwood, said, particularly bizarre. “What sort of a business culture is it in which it’s a privilege to be told you’re useless by a Lord?”
He feels firms with good workplace environments instead build people up and see staff cooperating with one another to solve problems, while colleagues don’t step on each other to get ahead.
Acas’ consultation paper meanwhile, warned that firms needed to take the issue of workplace bullying much more seriously and work to improve internal policies.
Brendan Barber, chair of Acas, said: “Callers to our helpline have experienced some horrific incidents around bullying that have included humiliation, ostracism, verbal and physical abuse. But managers sometimes dismiss accusations around bullying as simply personality or management-style clashes, whilst others may recognise the problem but lack the confidence or skills to deal with it.”
Analysis showed that bullying was more common in certain groups, with women in traditionally male-dominated occupations, public sector ethnic minority workers, employees with disabilities and health problems and LGBT employees all more frequently targeted.
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