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.