Tag Archive for workplace bullying

Met Police to change workplace bullying procedures [theWarf, by Richard Beecham, 03/12/2015]

Survey among the police force’s staff show a lack of confidence in current system for complaining about workplace grievances.

The Metropolitan Police is to overhaul its internal grievance processes for all staff complaining of discrimination, bullying or victimisation, following recommendations made in a report.

New procedures will be implemented and additional resources and training devoted to investigating and resolving complaints more effectively.

The move follows an independent review commissioned by the Met of its Fairness At Work (FAW) policy prompted by the employment tribunal case brought by former PC Carol Howard .

The tribunal recommended an independent review after the case highlighted deficiencies in the way her complaints were handled.

The report also highlights results from a survey conducted with more than 11,000 officers and staff which showed a lack of confidence in the current system, particularly when dealing with allegations of discrimination or bullying and harassment.

Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt said: “It became clear during the Carol Howard case that our internal processes had failed and needed to be improved in a number of key areas.

“The report recognises we responded straight away by improving our oversight and management of these cases but Professor Roy Lewis and Acas’s work gives us a clear framework from which we will build a better system from the bottom up.

“Only a very small proportion of our staff and officers feel the need to make complaints about treatment linked to discrimination, bullying or harassment – only 61 colleagues out of a workforce of nearly 50,000 in 2014/15.

“Nevertheless there is complete commitment from the Met’s management board to do this properly and devote the necessary resources to it.

“We are especially concerned by the number of people who told us that they fear being victimised if they raise a complaint, regardless of whether that fear is justified. That has never been acceptable but we will be making it very clear to our staff that victimisation will never be tolerated, will be investigated, and will have serious repercussions if it occurs.”

Bullying in the health service [RTE News, by Fergal Bowers, 03/12/2015]

In all walks of life, there is the potential to be exposed to bullying. It is unacceptable anywhere. But it is especially insidious in the workplace, as this is where a person earns their livelihood.

In the health service, recent studies suggest a certain culture of bullying that is also driving some health staff abroad to work.

But it’s even more serious, writes Health Correspondent Fergal Bowers.

If bullying in the health service results in some staff not reporting concerns about the working environment and patient care, or not highlighting mistakes that have occurred, that should be of great concern to everyone?

Stephen McMahon, of the Irish Patients’ Association, said that the problem with bullying is that people are afraid to speak up.

The threat is that a person may lose their job, or promotional prospects.

The IPA says it is aware of several cases, including where a resident in a nursing home who alleges they were told that if they contacted the Health Information and Quality Authority, they would end up on the street.

In another case, a service provider lost their job working for a company when they made a complaint (whistleblew) about a client hospital.

Mr McMahon said that it is a responsibility of employers, institutions and society, to ensure that ordinary people, everywhere, at every age and whatever their occupation are protected from bullies.

Who does the bullying – managers, doctors, nurses?

The Health Service Executive says it does not have centralised data for allegations of bullying.

It said that many complaints are successfully resolved at local level, without recourse to formal investigation.

The HSE said it recognises the right of health service staff to be treated with dignity and respect.

It said it is fully committed to ensuring that all employees are provided with a safe, working environment, which is free from all forms of bullying.

There is a national ‘Dignity at Work Policy for the Health Service’.

The HSE says it recognises that a culture of bullying and harassment, if unaddressed, undermines employee motivation and morale and adversely affects the quality of patient care.

The Medical Council did a survey recently which has some worrying findings.

It showed the prevalence of bullying in the training environment for doctors and that it has a notable impact on doctors leaving the country to work elsewhere.

There was a significant link between trainees’ staying intentions and their experience of being undermined by a fellow consultant, or a GP in their working area.

Trainees who were frequently undermined in their post (34%) were significantly more likely to intend to leave medical practice in Ireland, than trainees who were never undermined.

The Irish Medical Organisation says it is “wholly opposed to bullying”.

Dr John Duddy, the union’s vice-president and chairperson of its Non Consultant Hospital Doctor Committee, says the IMO has dealt with a very small number of complaints over the years in relation to bullying issues from its members.

But he says the union is concerned that there is a level of under-reporting and a culture of just “getting on with it”.

Dr Duddy strongly encourages anyone experiencing bullying, to avail of the internal structures to deal with such issues and to seek assistance from the union.

He says there is no substantive data as to whether the level of bullying among medical trainees, is any greater than the level among other grades or professions within the health service, or the workforce generally.

Any form of bullying is inconsistent with a positive working experience.

At the IMO’s AGM in 2014, it passed a motion condemning bullying in the health service.

The health effects of bullying can be physical and psychological.

Those affected may experience anxiety, increased stress, panic attacks, a lack of sleep, higher blood pressure, ulcers and depression.

Is bullying professional misconduct for doctors and other professions?

The Medical Council which polices doctors’ behaviour says it would depend on the seriousness of the allegation and whether the allegations affect a doctor’s fitness to practise medicine.

The Council’s annual report for 2014 contains some figures on complaints in relation to ‘reporting concerns about colleagues’ and ‘professional relationships about colleagues’ which it says would be the closest categories to bullying.

The number of complaints in 2014 was 12 and 18 the previous year.

Bill Prasifka, the Chief Executive of the Medical Council, says the data on bullying in the medical profession has been a matter of concern for the Council, since the first Your Training Counts report published last year.

He says it raises concerns about the quality of life and wellbeing of doctors, with the associated link with poorer health and wellbeing for those experiencing bullying.

The Council says it is working with all parties involved in medical education to deal with the issue.

In April, the Irish Nurses and Midwives’ Organisation published a large scale survey of the current levels of workplace bullying.

The study was in partnership with NUI Galway and the National College of Ireland.

It found that over the last four years, there has been an increase of over 13% in perceived incidences of bullying.

Almost 6% of respondents reported that they are bullied on an almost daily basis.

The percentage of non-union members who experience almost daily bullying was almost double that of union members.

The study found that Government cutbacks were a probable explanation for the significant rise in reported bullying between 2010 and 2014.

These findings are disturbing.

They may also explain the level of absenteeism, or illness among staff, in certain areas of the health service.

Most large organisations have anti-bullying policies in place but what about implementation?

A zero tolerance policy of bullying should exist and it should apply to all levels of staff.

The advice to anyone experiencing bullying is to stay calm and walk away, document any incidence, follow bullying procedures and seek support.

This is not just an Irish problem. It was raised recently at the European Junior Doctors Group.

Its president, Carsten Mohrhardt told RTÉ News that workplace bullying and stress are factors in doctors emigrating.

The organisation says it is totally opposed to workplace bullying and is committed to tackling the issue in hospitals and healthcare centres throughout Europe.

The EJD says that national government and healthcare authorities should take all reasonable steps within their power to address this issue within the healthcare sector.

Bullying is one of those problems that can often remain hidden.

Yet usually when bullies are exposed, they are defeated.

Public servants blaming managers for rising psychological injury [HC Online, by Chloe Taylor, 20/11/2015]

The Australian Public Service (APS) is seeing costs go up when it comes to both physical and psychological injuries, with departments continuing to seek an end to expensive compensation claims and sick leave.

According to a recent APS Commission update, the incident rate of psychological injuries is now higher in the public sector than in the private sector.

Fairfax Media reported that departments were also told in the update that they could be doing a better job of supporting the mental health and wellbeing of their employees.

Department secretaries are continuing to assess how workplace practices are affecting staff attitudes, motivation and performance.

“This aspect of workplace health and safety links the demands of an employee’s role and the sense of control they experience over how they do their work,” the APS report said.

“Where employees experience consistently unrealistic time pressures, or have little or no control over how they do their work the workplace health and safety outcome is significantly poorer.”

The update found one-third of public servants believe they always or often face unrealistic time pressures at work, while 40 per cent said they never or rarely did.

According to Fairfax, trauma from workplace bullying or violence now makes up the largest proportion of mental-stress compensation claims among public servants.

The APS update reported that a third of public servants believed they always or often felt unrealistic time pressures at work, while almost half said senior leaders affected their health and safety at work.

Just over 40% said their immediate supervisors had demonstrated a commitment to safety – but 20% strongly disagreed with this.

“Senior leaders have a profound effect on workplace safety,” the update read.

“When senior leaders actively engage their staff on how to deal with workplace problems the effect on workplace safety is clear.”

Earlier this year, the Public Service Commission told an inquiry into the reform of the Comcare system that the APS could no longer afford the costs being incurred by the abuse of the scheme.

In the update, the Public Service Commission called upon all departments to ensure staff have a means through which to raise concerns about mental health risks, and to ensure that these could be received by management.

It was also recommended that senior leaders promote mental health through the introduction of awareness programs and workshops.

Three tales of workplace bullies and how to stop them [ Chartered Management Institute, by Luisa Cheshire, 17/8/2015 ]

As the rise of career-killing bullies continues, Professional Manager looks at what drives these oppressors and how organisations can act to stop them in their tracks.

When Kate* took her first university job after a stint at Harvard and completing her PhD in record time, she had no idea her boss would crush her dreams of a glittering academic career. Nor did Alex* expect that the arrival of a new line manager would sever his nine successful years at a global market research company. Similarly, Anna* never thought that collaborating with a colleague would lead to months of misery and her progression at their not-for-profit organisation blocked.

Meet the victims of hidden bullies at work. All three had exemplary professional track records, yet were made to feel worthless and incompetent by bullies who destroyed their self-confidence and ultimately wrecked their careers.

To make matters worse, their respective organisations did nothing to stop it, leaving the bullies free to strike again.

Bullying is rife in the workplace. Ask anyone you know, and the chances are they have been bullied at work or have a friend who has. This shocking trend is on the rise, according to Dr Sheila Keegan, business consultant and chartered psychologist, in her latest book The Psychology of Fear in Organizations.


In 2007, a US study by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 37% of those surveyed claimed to have been bullied at work and 62% of firms had done nothing about it.

Since then, there’s been a steady growth in workplace bullying allegations, says Keegan, who suggests pressure on managers to meet performance targets in the post-recession climate is one reason for the increase.

But what is bullying? The UK Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) defines bullying as “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient”.

Such behaviour, Keegan says, may be persistent or occasional, and comes in many forms. In Alex’s case, he was repeatedly told he was incompetent because he was unable to achieve the impossible targets his new manager set him. Over a period of months, Kate’s boss told her she was a “disappointment”, but without giving clear instructions about her job. Anna, meanwhile, was undermined, criticised and ridiculed through subtle asides and endless emails.

Physical and psychological consequences

Whatever the tactics, bullying can have catastrophic consequences: chronic stress, high blood pressure and increased risk of coronary heart disease have all been cited by medical research, according to Keegan. And victims can suffer long-term, sometimes permanent, psychological impairment. Other experts agree.

“Broadly speaking, being bullied erodes people’s self-confidence, and that is an important factor leading to anxiety or a state of depression,” says psychoanalyst Dr Joan Schachter. “Usually a bully makes a person feel powerless and ashamed of themselves. This can provoke a mixed state of anxiety and depression, then the person can’t work.”

Dr Neil Cheshire, clinical psychologist, elaborates. “Bullies damage a person’s sense of self-worth or even of identity,” he says. “This is because the latter depends in part on a sense of self-efficacy. Reduction of this risks depression.”

Almost two years after he was bullied at work, Alex is receiving counselling for anxiety.

Meanwhile, 10 years on, Kate still suffers from writer’s block and impaired confidence. Anna, after three years, has bouts of insomnia and feels unable to progress at work.

So the effects of bullying are devastating, yet workplace bullies consistently get away with it. How? Because bullying is so often a subjective experience, it can be difficult in some cases to identify and prove.

“Bullying is a pattern of behaviour – repeated actions and practices – so it’s not easy to diagnose and verify, and there is often no smoking gun,” says Professor Kevin Morrell of the Warwick Business School. “Plus, sometimes an accusation of bullying can itself be bullying; sometimes people use disciplinary procedures as a tool in their armoury.

“The other thing is that some organisations almost seem set up to support bullying: there can be failures of management systems, poor information flows, or traditionally huge power imbalances,” he adds. “And there are some organisations that reward characteristics that might be associated with bullying.”


There is a ‘dark triad’ of personality traits, says Morrell – narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy (see graphic, left) – that make it harder to identify bullies.

“People with these traits can often ‘kick down and kiss up’,” he says. “They may be very skilful at presenting a certain image of themselves, which makes it harder to identify them as bullies.”

He explains that the narcissist is puffed up on wave of entitlement and ego, which is problematic if you work for them because they won’t want anyone to challenge their idealised self-image. Yet the narcissist’s boss, who doesn’t have daily contact, may be taken in by them, and never see the mask slip, instead rewarding them for being a good frontman – or woman – for the organisation.

“Machiavellian employers”, he says, “treat people in a cold and manipulative way. If you are working for someone with those traits, they will treat you like an object. But, if you are the boss of that person, they might seem to be getting great results because they are not pussyfooting around.

“Psychopaths, meanwhile, don’t care if they push people to get results. If you work for them, it’s miserable. If you’re their boss, though, you may like the fact they are getting things done, even if you aren’t fully aware of the costs.”

As well as individuals, bullying can also damage an organisation.

“A bullying culture undermines productivity, innovation and, ultimately, company profits,” says Keegan. “Fear can limit us as employees and human beings. It can stunt our creativity and our abilities to look at situations from different perspectives. If we want to develop engaged, enthusiastic and resilient workforces, ongoing vigilance of, and a zero-tolerance policy to, bullying are essential.”

Keegan cites research that stresses the importance of naming what is happening as ‘workplace bullying’, as well as providing information to those who are being bullied. If these strategies don’t work, sacking the bully is the only viable option.


Morrell suggests an organisation that is serious about rooting out bullies could use exit interviews more effectively. One major media company, concerned about high staff turnover in one department, hired a journalist to rewrite the exit interview questions so departing staff were unable to give the usual platitudes. In came probing questions like ‘name three things you didn’t like about working here’. A bully was unmasked, sacked, and staff turnover returned to normal.

Companies could also make it clear to employees that filing a bullying complaint won’t be a traumatic experience. And they could put systems in place to make it easier for people to move departments, similar to a no-fault divorce. However, the bottom line, as Keegan points out, is to create a supportive work environment where bullying cannot thrive.

Bullying is more likely to be prevalent in organisations where generalised fear is rife, she says. In organisations where people feel supported and more confident, bullying tends to be less tolerated.

“At the most basic level, organisation health is a human right,” says Keegan. “How can it be acceptable to create fear in a workplace, or not try to prevent or reduce it where it does occur?

“Somehow, behaviour that would never be tolerated in the outside world has become, if not acceptable, then tolerated. It is as if, in an era in which redundancy is a real possibility, some staff feel that bullying is an acceptable way to behave.”

Keegan’s view is that reducing excessive fear at work is a must and needs to be addressed through a variety of means, including strong and fair management, coaching, good leadership, the principles of positive psychology, and different approaches, such as appreciative enquiry and collaborative working.

“Trust between employees is the bedrock of an organisation,” she adds. “Bringing human values into the workplace can reap remarkable rewards.”

*Names have been changed