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  • Writer's pictureConduct Change

Preventing Workplace Bullying (or... Why I Do What I Do)

When I started my business, I was advised repeatedly not to use the word "bullying" because "businesses didn't like it". Well guess what? Neither do targets of bullying!

I know this from personal experience. If you'd have asked me a few years ago if I wanted to spend my working life focusing on workplace bullying, I would have given you a definitive NO! However, one of the most important stages of recovery is understanding what has happened to you, and once I was able to explore this stage, I found the subject fascinating. Don't get me wrong, it hasn't been an easy journey.

It took a long time to really acknowledge what was happening. The first incident was quite early on in a new role, and although I said to a colleague that I felt bullied at the time, my reaction was to work harder, prove my worth and value. What I ended up doing was going against my own values in adopting working practices that aligned with my bully, to protect myself and my job - my financial security. Eventually though, my health was affected - both physically and psychologically, and I knew that had to stand up for myself. I sought advice from a trusted colleague, and finally found the courage to confront my bully. I thought it had made a difference. It did for a few short weeks. Then it just made everything worse.

So I used the grievance procedure to make it formal, and that's where the damage was really done. I went into that process with faith that justice would be done. I fought to make sure that this could never happen to anyone else again; to protect all the staff for whom I was responsible. During this process, I lost my sense of direction, I lost my team, I lost myself. I became someone that I no longer recognised, and certainly didn't like. By the time I had been though the initial investigation (not upheld, as with most of them - a fact I did not know at the time) and an appeal, and being told at the same time that my role was at risk and I had to apply for a new job (which I had to do to keep the appeal going), I was broken. I had no option but to walk away.

If I had known how long it was going to take me to recover, I would not have taken the minimal settlement that they offered. My mental health was shattered to the point of suicidal ideation. I had lost all confidence in myself, in my ability to work at all. I had also lost nearly all of my friends as most of the people that I knew locally were through work. I was socially isolated as well as being pushed out of my job. I didn't know where to turn.

Eventually, I began to apply for jobs - not the senior management roles that I had been in previously, but low paid, part time jobs that I could walk away from easily. Many times, I couldn't even complete the application form because of the panic and nausea that swept over me. Not being able to work meant that the debts were piling up. I sold personal items to try and keep going, but eventually we had to sell our home. We were lucky, we could downsize. It could have been much worse. When we were house hunting, we considered an area near my old workplace and I started to have a panic attack as we approached. There was no way that I could go anywhere near there. (I've only been past it again once. That was enough).

It took me around 6 years to really regain my confidence, and I still have wobbles to this day, but I know how to manage them now; how to recover quickly.

So, onto recovery. I was offered CBT but it was not helpful, so I sought out my own therapies and coaches to help me move forward. I've always loved learning, so understanding what had happened to me, and to so many others, became a fascination and then a passion. I know now that there is so much that can be done to prevent workplace bullying. I know the costs not only at an individual level, but at an organisational level. I know that I have to take responsibility for my own reactions at the time. I understand that the processes that we use are adversarial and not fit for purpose. I know that there are gaps in legislation for workplace bullying. I know that legislation is only part of the picture. I know that there are better ways of working, and that there are many good employers out there. I also know that this is still a huge issue, and we have to do something - NOW.

That's why, when I set up my business (yes, it's a for-profit business; no, it's not a charity or not for profit - often asked just because it's about bullying - but a choice to give back), I added a social purpose: Advocacy, Awareness Raising and Campaigning Against Workplace Bullying.

That's why we have a mission to end workplace bullying through the development of meaningful prevention activities for organisations and the implementation of effective routes to redress for individuals.

That's why I'm passionate about working with businesses to shift the focus to prevention through consultancy, training and coaching.

That's why I speak internationally on the subject to help influence change.

That's why we are campaigning under the Stop Hurt at Work banner to change the law.

That's why I have free resources on my website for individuals and businesses to access.

That's why we run the United Against Workplace Bullying Conference in November each year, during anti-bullying week.

That's why we offer low cost Moving On programmes on a "Pay as you are Able" basis.

So, now you know the background to what I do. And yes, I do, and will continue to use the word bullying.

But why do I do what I do? Simple. I love it!

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