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Do as you would be done by

January 8, 2015

By Basket Press

At last! Some guidance on how to deal with bullying! Because no-one ever thought of just not doing it, nor of applying the old adage “do as you would be done by”. Well they didn’t, did they, as we all know that bullying is endemic and will have been on the receiving end.

The “toolkit” is full of the usual – values, mission statements, policies and procedures, education – nothing we don’t already know, nothing that shouldn’t already be done – which all avoids the obvious: if trusts have, then observe, the necessary policies on looking after their staff, and follow their own publicly stated values why do we have a problem?

Another report from earlier this year points the way: not all trusts have relevant staff well-being policies. But even that isn’t the full story, because a policy is no good if it isn’t put into practice, is wilfully misused or is itself treated as a means of bullying.

I shall use some of my history in mental health trusts and that of a friend in an acute trust to illustrate this.

I once worked on an in-patient unit, which, for reasons of financial expediency, was only commissioned as a five day ward (yes, a five day ward…). At interview for the post I pointed out, with sample staffing rotas, that there was a big problem if the unit had to move to full seven day opening, as was certain given the patient group, unless staffing numbers were increased. Oddly I got the job.

Sure enough, we went to seven day opening very rapidly. Staffing wasn’t increased. We ran on a mix of qualified staff doing sleep-in shifts, lots of over-time for all of us, lots of on-call for the likes of me, agency nurses…I disconnected my home phone when not officially on-call, for which I was shouted at when I let it slip…

Finally my mind and mood gave out, so I was off for several months with work-related stress and associated depression. SSRIs (antidepressant medication) helped. However, when discussing a return to work, all my employer talked about was what I was going to do differently. Every time I brought up the ludicrous workload, staff shortages, hours worked, intrusions into one’s supposed time off and the roots of the problems, I was shouted down and told to go and look at myself, as other people weren’t complaining. Not publicly they weren’t, but in supervision they were. But as one of the relevant supervisors I both knew that and couldn’t use that knowledge because of the confidentiality of the supervisory relationship…

A similar thing happened to me as team co-ordinator in community mental health in another trust: no permanent psychiatrists, just locums of varying quality and expertise; half the expected number of Community Psychiatric Nurses; no psychologists…Yet it was my fault that our waiting times rose, we couldn’t deliver a service, and when I went off with depression it was again my fault that I couldn’t cope. I was not the only member of what passed for a team with work-related depression, but that was ignored in a fit of victim blaming. When I was ready to go back, I was forbidden from returning to that team, but forced into another one, with similarly poor staffing, continued use of locum psychiatrists and the like while management closed down any attempt at discussion of staffing levels and working conditions.

I had, as team co-ordinator, overseen the return to work, from work-related depression, of another team member. Again, our manager would not listen to us about working conditions and staffing levels, only talking of how the staff member was going to work differently. This nearly ended in a fist fight from sheer frustration at the manager’s selective deafness.

Please note both trusts did, in fact, have staff well-being policies covering work-related stress, bullying and the like. It’s just that the policies were no good and not used anyway. No attempts were made to address underlying causes, everything was turned round to, “It’s your fault, depressed person! Change!”, which is victim-blaming management inaction of the worst, most craven sort. This sort of management behaviour constitutes bullying, in trusts proud of their “anti-bullying” policies, who claim staff are their greatest asset…

On to my friend in the acute trust. Their work place had a culture of endemic bullying by managers, nepotism (certain surnames, oddly the same as some high ups, were necessary for a successful job application), ever-increasing workloads without any increase in staffing, ever more petty micro-management of all aspects of the working day, refusal to address problems in the building with adverse health effects, and…

My friend made a complaint about bullying. Not investigated because no-one else complained. Well, no, they were all too scared!

My friend went off with a stress-related condition, which their GP labelled as caused by work. On return (as above no attempts to look at underlying causes, just what the individual is to do), my friend saw a psychologist at Occupational Health. This psychologist did not, from what I was told, appear to be very experienced. They didn’t listen to what was said about work, then picked at irrelevant personal matters until my friend broke down in tears of anger and frustration and swears that they saw a look of triumph on the face of the psychologist! My friend declined, unsurprisingly, any follow up with that person. To my mind this again is bullying in the guise of observing “caring” policies.

If, as is clearly the case, trusts are prepared to condone the use of “caring” and well-being policies as a means of bullying staff further we need to go beyond a nice little “toolkit”, don’t we?

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2 Comments
  1. RGN007 permalink

    http://rcnpublishing.com/doi/abs/10.7748/ns.29.10.32.s40

    The above book, “The Dark Side of Nursing” I recently read specifically on bullying in nursing, though not based in UK. The problem seems rife in the profession.

    One of my experiences of being bullied contributed to my interest in reading about psychology and how such “intelligent” people can not have the insight to be so horrible to each other. I occurs in all areas of work including the medical profession. In fact I have a friend at the top of his field and he is also victimised because his degree is not seen by those from Oxbridge, as from the right University!

    During a bad phase in my life that also led to depression my GP said “You know it is said that those who need caring for themselves tend to enter caring professions”.

    In my case my depression came from years of a collection of events both personal and professional but one of the professional instances was since I became a practice nurse where the practice manager subtlety manipulated and excluded me, even correcting my speech in front of my colleague and laughing. After 2 years (and I was warned she would do this by a previous nurse who had been there 15 years) I highlighted 4 x A4 sheets from a website on bullying an sent it to the lead GP. He did nothing.

    I then worked in a large training practice in Salford and again, both new nurses were treated in a derogatory way, excluded from the tea round, shouted at in front of patients and when I stood up for myself in a polite way I was sacked. The RCN just said there were 5 others like me in the North West but their hands were tied.

    I do not think tools are good for much as they do not address the main problem. Like the bullying tool, the practice nurse tool kit does nothing to either educate the supposedly educated GPs and managers into doing the right thing on employing practice nurses, reception staff, nor does the bullying tool kit oblige any perpetrators of bullying to recognise themselves as the problem. They just think it does not apply to them yet the Government put these people in charge.

    Since I have a friend who is in an abusive relationship I have read about sociopaths and psychopaths. Before you think I am mad and see a vision of Hopkins breaking his knife in the shower I suggest you read an article called “Snakes in Suits” and those who maybe working among us who simply do not have a conscience.

    http://marucha.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/paul-babiak-robert-d-hare-psychopats-at-work.pdf

  2. Basket Press permalink

    Hi RGN007, thank you for your comment.

    It is sad that you also had to experience such things.

    The concept of psychopathy (given my background it is a term I rarely use without careful consideration) in management has been around for a while, and also forms part of another piece I have written about management issues. I am at a loss as to how to explain some people’s behaviour without thinking of it in terms of a personality disorder.

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