Wednesday, June 16, 2010

UNISON NDC 2010: “Bullied at work?” fringe

This packed standing room only official UNISON Health & safety fringe was held on Tuesday lunchtime. The fringe was used to launch a new UNISON document on “bullying at work” which is based on recent UNISON surveys and research on bullying. Portsmouth University business school lecturer, Charlotte Raynar was the main guest speaker (left). Nick Green of National Health & Safety Committee was Chair and Hope Daley (National Health & Safety officer) the second speaker. There was also a very personal contribution from a UNISON member who had been badly bullied at work.

There had been a survey on bullying in 1997 and a new one undertaken last year. A definition of bullying (it’s not the only one) used was having “weekly negative experiences” at work. Before only 50% of workers who reported such weekly negative experiences were willing to call this behaviour “bullying”. However in 2009 80% reported it as “bullying”. So the percentage of workers who now recognise they are being bullying had almost doubled. Which I suppose in a strange way is "positive" since it means that the message about what is bullying and that bullying is unacceptable - has got out.

Some interesting analysis about bullying and what to do about it.

When not being bullied 71% said that they would make formal complaint if they were to be bullied in the future. However only 17% of workers who reported being bullied had done so. 82% said if they were bullied they would see a UNISON rep but actually only 37% did in practice.

Only 20% of those who chose to confront a “bully” thought it had resolved the situation. Which is very low but only 5.9% of those who went to HR thought it resolved anything. Charlotte thought that in some cases when workers reported bullies to HR it ended up being treated as a performance management matter about the worker who complained! Those who made formal complaint thought it was resolved in only 15%. Surprising only 17% of those who had taking out collective grievances thought that it had worked but in this case Charlotte reported that in 1997 such grievances were very rare.

The price of bullying is clear. Workers being bullied suffer depression, stress, suffer lack of confidence and 28% of people leave work directly due to bullying.

Recession and the possible (probable) £34 billion in cuts will result in “negative behaviours” going up? Yes! Bullying is inefficient means of management. Doesn’t make them work harder. This is not just a HR issue this is a "people issue".

Next was Suzanne who was a UNISON member who had been bullied at work by a group of workers who made her life a misery. They made her life seem like “torture”. She put up with it for 2 years. She then reported it to her line manager who agreed that she was being bullied but did nothing. She went to UNISON. Who eventually got Thompsons solicitors involved. Lack of training and understanding by managers is the reason why bullying is “allowed” to carry on. Her managers were redeployed and don’t manage people anymore. She spoke movingly about how she used to be a very confident person but the bullying at the time made her cry all the time.

Hope Daley also spoke about the survey results and UNISON response. Apart from the research and the new policy document UNISON have introduced a specially designed one day course for activists on bullying. There is also new literature and campaign materials. Anti-bullying action should also be used to recruit new members and reps. 80% of members want specific legislation on tackling bullying. UNISON will press for this. Many employer policies on bullying are over 10 years old and not effective. UNISON will be pressing the HSE and the Council enforcement bodies to serve improvement notices about inadequate policies and risk assessments.

In the Q&A I asked whether or not the survey could identify if there was more bullying amongst UNISON members in the private sector (or who work with private contractors) since our branch often comes across “life on Mars” attitudes towards bullying by some private sector managers (it didn’t identify where members worked).

One delegate present told us that she was a former HR officer who was now a union rep. She was very critical of some of her former colleagues. She said she had joined HR because she thought it was a “caring profession”. She said that to be a good HR officer you need tremendous character and need to draw a line and stand up and say “no” to managers.

Finally, Charlotte reminded everyone one of the more positive outcomes of the research was that you are more likely to deal successfully with the abuse if you deal firmly with it on the first or second occasion. If you let the bullying go on for more times without doing anything then it is far more difficult to deal with it. So UNISON must encourage members to go to their reps as soon as there is a problem and the rep must deal with it quickly and firmly. Food for thought.


Anonymous said...

i'm been a unison memeber for 10 years- when i finally gave way after been bullied at work and asked my unison rep to come with me to a grievance hearing - even though it was booked in advance with him he choose to attend another meeting instead - the only response i ever got from him was well its not like your going to loose you job is it ? now 17 weeks on from my submitting a 100 page grievance i still have no response and remain off work with mental health issues. I have potentially lost my career and my mental health and these people continue in post as if nothing has happened.! some days i struggle to cope so much for unison help

John Gray said...

Hi anon

I'm sorry you feel this way. If you want to email me your details privately (check my profile) I will find out who should deal with your complaint.