avoid the bullies, gagging instruction, dignity at work bill
Bullying, bad language, snide remarks, nit-picking, lack of support, humiliation? Read this

Bullying in computing and IT in the NHS

Case history #42

I Left the Army in 1996. Management training for me started in a military college and continued through many tours of duty and promotions. I had always avoided bullies, and had been singled out on a number of occasions.

I was looking forward to the back of that when I started civilian life, with expectations of a second career, founded on the experience of the first one. The day I joined the NHS as a network manager was my first taste of workplace bullying which has continued unabated to date. That day, I had been interviewed by the IT manager and offered the job. During this second interview the man told me that I had been the second choice, the first choice had decided not to accept. I could have accepted that, but when a member of staff, who I was expected to manage, repeated this to me, naturally I was unsettled by it. Clearly there was an open line from the junior staff to the senior manager, which made me very nervous. Worse, IT manager had a close colleague - programmer, who gave me a brief initiation that included the statement, “what goes on in this team, stays in this team” I recognised this as a gagging instruction and made my mind up to test it.

That day I also met a young woman who greeted me with “ Hi my name is ***, treat me like one of the boys”, she explained that as she tolerated their bad language and inappropriate behaviour, I should feel free to talk as I wished because she had heard it all before. I tested this about ten days into the job. As soon as I had said anything choice, she took offence, tore me off a strip, and began a long period of silence treatment ending a year and a half later, when she left. The programmers' relationship with IT manager was such that I quickly began to receive criticism through a pattern where such niggling was delivered, not in private conversation, but open, just in earshot of me. The first time, was when I asked for directions to a site (I am not local and commute) I could hear his comment to IT manager that he would have been better off employing a local bloke. There were many more episodes to follow. One of my responsibilities was security; attacks included hiding equipment that I was too busy to work on, and pulling it out in front of the boss, my role in security being highlighted.

One day, I caught one of my staff reading our director's email and the IT manager was with me when I discovered it. I had no option but to act. At this point I expected that the chap should be dismissed, as it was obvious that any working relationship we had would be destroyed by this event, this was not to be. There was a sternly worded letter “placed on his employment record”. IT manager then brought him into the team and worked closely with him. This man then undermined my position for about eight months, choosing to criticise my skills. The other junior staff, who I previously worked close with and enjoyed lunch breaks with, suddenly found better things to do with their lunch breaks, which didn't include me. Eventually, I ended up having my interpersonal skills examined in front of two directors and IT manager amid a shower of minor nit picking complaints about my performance. (IT manager used to dump everything on my desk so that he and friend could concentrate on pet project).

At rock bottom, I aired some of my feelings with a pal from a service background who told me it sounded like I was being bullied. It was three years, and I genuinely thought I was just not “fitting in” until the day I absently typed, “bullying” into a web search engine. Tim Field enabled me to examine the facts and as a result, I bypassed my directors, and delivered a thirty page report entitled - Workplace Bullying in the **** IT department, to the HR Director who had close ties to the chief executive, both fair-minded people. The rest is history. This ended in mid-2000 “dealt with”. The experience made me bully aware, and given all previous experiences, has helped me to recognise incidents and react, in a way that confronts the problem head on, usually by being completely open about incidents. Management culture seems to operate bullying techniques and I have become a professional target, prone to attack, uncaring of this but able to understand the position and at an appropriate point, counter attack. Research is valuable and validating experiences is essential.

Last year, I had a stress episode, caused by short staff, growing commitments, and lack of support. I had been dislodged from my position by too many events, and a barrage of criticising emails addressed to me, my director, and the originators director, which I read as publicly humiliating. I fondly call this “textual harassment”. During this episode a junior colleague decided he had seen a better job, offered to him by another NHS Manager and deserted me in the middle of a crisis, I decided it was just not worth it and sought relief from my GP who signed me off. I got a different job and now find myself working for another manager, who has my old job. Demoted I called this, denial the response. How can all this happen? There seems to be no end to it. Events continue, despite good anti-bullying and stress policies, however, the two phrases: “inappropriate behaviour” and “unsafe system of work” are very comforting. Please God, speed the Dignity at Work Bill and lets put an end to this.


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