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Tuesday 20 April 2021

Workplace bullying: share your experience

By Victoria Jones

Equality Officer Victoria Jones explains why the FDA is asking members about their experience of workplace bullying, and how you can help the union to improve the processes that surround it.

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As a union, we often support members who are bullied at work. Our members will come to us with a variety of experiences, from micro-aggressions that they’ve shrugged off for a long time, to isolated incidents where criticism has gone too far.

We want to find out more about our members’ experiences of bullying and what can be done to help employees who find themselves trying to tackle this behaviour.

Organisational HR procedures usually rely on an employee bringing a complaint or grievance. But individuals may be too distressed to do this, or they see it leading to lots more stress with little chance of success.  Or sometimes they may not realise that the psychological pressure they’re exposed to is actually bullying, or worthy of a grievance.

Workplace bullying can have a huge impact on an individual, as members have told us:

“I was under massive workload pressure that was making me ill. My manager agreed I could renegotiate a deadline, but then said that proved I was under-performing and not up to the job.”

“I set up external awareness training for the team. My manager was supportive to my face, but at the last minute told team members it wasn’t a priority and they should go to another, routine meeting instead – I felt totally undermined.”

“I had to take some days off sick because of stress. I thought management pressure was the cause, but my manager would not negotiate and refused to go to mediation. HR told me I had to take out a grievance to get it addressed, but I thought that would just be more stressful.  It was only later that I realised I’d been bullied.”

In 2017 we carried out a survey of members to understand their experiences of bullying and harassment. We want to revisit this work and are carrying out a survey of members to get a broader view of what’s happening in workplaces across the civil service. This data will shape our work in this area and help us to lobby and bargain for policies and practices that are fit for purpose.

Bullying behaviours, however small, have a huge impact not just on the individual but on the entire culture of a workplace.  We want to work to create inclusive, supportive workplaces where bullying is no longer an issue our members face.

Get involved:

Take part in our survey at https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/FDASurveyOnBullying. If you’d like to be part of a focus group, please email equalitymatters@fda.org.uk.

A member’s story

Huw Meredith has been a civil servant since 2006 and “joined the FDA fairly soon after”. He got in touch with his union after workload pressures began to affect his health. A persistent headache led him to A&E, where he was found to have what was described to him as “massively high blood pressure”. Huw had been “flagging to management for quite a long time - three months beforehand - that this workload pressure was intolerable but it didn’t make any difference, there was no acknowledgement of it”. His HR department suggested mediation with his manager, which they refused.

The next option suggested to Huw by HR was to take out a grievance, which he believed given his circumstances would only “create more hassle and stress”. Huw also felt that the onus should be on his employer to help him, rather than for him to have to take out a formal grievance to get any action taken: “If my manager had punched me in the face, the organisation would have had to react. There’s something fundamentally wrong about culture and procedures that rely on an individual, where you can be marked out as a trouble-maker.”

After retiring in June 2020 and feeling “relatively emboldened to speak out”, Huw became interested in helping others in a similar situation, who felt under pressure at work with nowhere to turn. He contacted FDA Equality Officer Victoria Jones, initially about “ways in which I could get feedback from other people who have experienced problems like mine”.

Huw hopes that sharing his own experience and difficulties may help others to an easier path for raising concerns within their employer. “There should be some kind of no-fault way of picking it up which doesn’t rely on individuals putting themselves in the firing line.”

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