B is for Bullying

Unfortunately there may be occasions when a manager or business owner discovers that a member of their staff is being bullied.   This could be through the spread of malicious rumours, the “silent” treatment, or making unjust criticism about their work – to cite just a few examples.

The impact of bullying can be devastating both to the individual and to the business, and it is important that managers take the appropriate steps to eliminate any inappropriate behaviour in the workplace.

If you’re interested to know how we can help you with any bullying or harassment issues in the workplace please visit our website

Where do you stand on bullying?

I’ve been talking a lot about bullying recently. It started a few weeks ago when I participated in the weekly Twitter Talk #nhssm on the topic of cyber bullying.

Then a friend of a friend contacted me as they are being bullied at work because (she believes) she’s just agreed a flexible working arrangement so she can support her husband who is having on-going treatment for cancer.

And a BNI colleague called me as his daughter started a new job six weeks ago and is finding the workplace too “aggressive” and wants to leave.

What I found interesting in the #nhssm chat is that one participant was surprised to hear that there was bullying in the NHS.  But it is a fact – as the annual staff survey shows - that there is  bullying the NHS .  (Unfortunately) Bullying within the NHS generates a substantial income for me as I frequently undertake complex investigations into bullying and harassment.

I still remember my first investigation in 2000 – a case of a nurse bullying a patient; I’ve also seen staff-on-staff, managers-on-staff, staff-on-managers. I’ve investigated a fair share of senior Doctor grievances about being bullied.

Last week I met up with Andy for a drink and he started to tell me about recent developments at work. His boss, Darryl, has always had a strained relationship with one of the General Managers, Derren. However, he hadn’t realised how bad until he attended a meeting recently when they were both present. The atmosphere was hostile, the dislike between the two parties tangible. Andy came out of the meeting thinking “What was that about?”

The next day Andy was in an informal 1:1 meeting with one of Derren’s junior managers when he learnt the true extent of the situation. Allegedly, Derren and Darryl fell out about 8 years ago and have never sorted out their differences. Derren however has recently been saying that he believes Darryl is “absolutely useless” and is on a personal mission to drive Darryl out of the organisation. Apparently “everyone” knew about this.

Andy was in shock to hear this, but as he absorbed the information past events that he’d not fully understood now seemed to make perfect sense. For example, over the last two years Derren has actively sabotaged projects and instigated investigations into areas of HR where he felt there was any impropriety. Andy has been an innocent bystander but  has indirectly felt the impact of this behaviour.

Andy was now wondering what he should do.  Like me, he feels quite strongly about bullying & harassment.  Having seen the awful psychological damage it can do, I like to think that I stand up to bullying:  a few months ago I was in a meeting with a client and one of the participants swore a number of times.  Whilst the colourful language was used in jest, it wasn’t appropriate.  In fact, one of the other participants made a passing comment about it as we left the meeting.  I spoke to him about it a few days later when the opportunity was right.

However it’s not as easy as that in Andy’s case.  I’m not going to detail what Andy decided to do after our chat, because everyone deals with such situations differently.  But there were three key things I felt he  needed to think about:

a) his relationship with his boss,

b) his reputation within his organisation,

c) what he might say when he gets to an Employment Tribunal (when, not if).

I don’t think it’s always clear exactly what we, as HR professionals, should do when we see such deep entrenched bullying behaviour.  Striking that balance that ensures Andy maintains his integrity, his professionalism and his job as an HR professional isn’t going to be easy.  I just hope he doesn’t get caught in the cross-fire.

The Inhuman Side of Human Resources

“So the plan is to put that nurse at risk and possibly make her redundant? Who’s going to tell her? It’s alright for you in HR, but I know her really well and she’s going to be really upset with this.   So what support are YOU going to give her?”

….and so went the conversation earlier today when I met an HR non-believer – you know the type  “I don’t like HR, I don’t trust HR”

I smiled and gave my usual response…..outlining all the support mechanisms that have been put in place, including the support that the line manager (the HR non-believer) would be providing.

But the point is that my HR non-believer thinks that HR professionals don’t care.  That we don’t have empathy for the staff who are significantly affected by the current round of cost pressures;  or the staff who have submitted grievances because they have been bullied & harassed;  or the many other unpleasant and distressing scenarios faced by staff.

It’s a theme I’ve been thinking about for a while…. ever since I read Redundant Public Servant’s post on language in letters written by HR professionals – such as  “at risk” letters.

The other weekend I discussed with @pinkwizard_uk how difficult it can be both emotionally and mentally dealing with a heavy workload of employee relations cases.  And just yesterday I was chatting with a member of my local BNI chapter and he asked me how did I cope dealing with “depressing” issues all the time?

The content of our work can make us feel depressed, we experience feelings of despair and sometimes we will want to cry.  But we have to pick ourselves up and find a way through it.  And for that reason, many HR professionals develop survival techniques.

We have to learn how to distance ourselves for our sanity;  we become numb due to the level of emotionally difficult situations we face;   we learn that the best way to rectify a bad situation isn’t to fire-fight on a case-by-case basis, but to change things at a corporate level.

So, it’s not that we don’t care: we do.  We are just trying to manage our own mental health whilst trying to ensure that we meeting  legislative requirements and not compromising our organisation in any way.

Ever since the new year I have made a conscious effort to ensure that there is a person-centred approach to my HR practice.  I try to understand the perspective of the employee and work with my Trade Union colleagues where I can to ensure that the approach and direction is sensitive, yet aligned to business needs.   Without doubt, it’s a balancing act, but it’s important to get that balance right.

But this issue isn’t just an HR one:  A few months ago I drafted a letter for a manager.  We were closing down a particularly distressing investigation into bullying and harassment.  I gave the manager a  “standard” letter and then started to discuss with him what could be added to personalise it, for example to acknowledge the difficulties that had been faced by the individual member of staff.   The manager didn’t want to add anything personal. He stuck to the template and did not deviate from it in any way, despite my reasoned arguments to the contrary.

A couple of weeks later I overheard the employee who received the letter say “It was a horrible letter….I bet HR wrote it and he just signed off”.  And whilst that’s true, it’s not the whole story.  But who’s going to believe me?