Friday, 13 April 2018

Prevalent, ignored and therefore, condoned - Bullying and the NHS Part 5

My therapist once told me that my anxieties stemmed from waking up with a full jug. All it took was a small amount to cause its contents to spill over and then my anxieties would manifest themselves.

I have always remembered the analogy. I would wake up with my brain feeling like a lump of clay; hard and fixed, always feeling like I was going to explode. I was still so tired mentally and frustrated continually.

Looking back, a former colleague and friend (who apparently left our place of work because of me. She didn't - I'm not saying this, she told me and put it in a statement, but we'll get to that later) used to say I was a mood hooverer.

It's amusing now, but at the time I was hurt. However, she was bang on the money.

We had a team meeting many, many years before all of this sadness. It had been called to discuss many things about work, but at some point, I can't remember from who, it came up that the reason people in the office sometimes annoyed was that of me.

I was flooored. I didn't recall doing anything specific.

It turns out that if I weren't in a particularly good mood; nothing to do with work, just my general difficulties with the world and people and life and breathing, I would walk in, say my customary hellos and then just sit quietly festering in my dark pit of moodiness.

And apparently, without my saying a word, it would come off me in waves. I was told it was almost a tangible presence all of its own, affecting everyone else like it was in the air.

I told Kelly and said everyone at work is picking on me 😢. Kelly told me they were right!

Her exact words - "I wouldn't chat you up in a nightclub. You know why? You look like to much hard work! Love you though."

Erm, cheers!

She reminded me of a former manager saying that I was lovely to work with, but if I didn't agree with a managerial decision, I would challenge it. I don't know if that's necessarily a bad thing, but I can see how it would have been annoying.

Kelly also reminded me that I was challenging and a little bit special!

Cheers, again my beautiful Turtle!

Anyway, I reflected on my newfound status as a mood hooverer and realised that everyone had been right. I didn't do it on purpose. In fact, I was utterly ignorant of the fact that my unspoken, mental struggles were having such a profound effect on others.

I swore to everyone subsequently that, from that day onwards, if there were ever an atmosphere in the office, it would not be caused by me. Oddly, it took years for me to accept all the other things I needed to acknowledge, but that one I sorted ASAP.

There were atmospheres in the office after this and up until my suspension but never caused by anything I said or did.

So, where was I?

Oh, yes. I was strongly persuaded into providing my mental health records, which I did with a little redacting of some personal things. As I had known, there was nothing in them to support the claims that my behaviour had become 'erratic' and that was that after I attended a few customary Occupational Health appointments.

Lovely people, fantastic apartment, but again, no nothing about how to support staff with mental health difficulties.

Anyway, the following week, I am called in again about something else.

I know, what did this guy do?

Well, I had told a joke.

This was the joke.

ICE

BANK

MICE

ELF

Say it fast, and you realise it is a play on words.

I had written it on a piece of paper and stuck it on the wall, the idea being people would walk past, see it, read and laugh.

My manager told me if I had to leave it up then at least make it look Christmassy, so I drew a tree with baubles on it.

This was maybe the first week in December, so two weeks before I was suspended.

This subsequent meeting was to discuss this and a presentation, that I shall get to in a minute.

I was told that the joke had been 'found'.

It wasn't hidden remember. It was stuck on the wall. I was curious why it had been 'found' three months later, but I had my suspicions why.

I was asked did I do it.

I said I did.

I was asked if I thought it was acceptable?

I said no, I realised it wasn't. I had done it as a joke to bring some levity into a workplace that was rapidly becoming un-fun and stagnant. Work in the NHS has lives attached to it and requires a degree of respect and reverence, but that doesn't mean that in downtime, you can't have a little fun and a laugh.

I was told that had I considered that someone may not have found it funny and thought I found them prudish for not laughing.

I explained I hadn't considered it that deeply, but as a Lead Nurse, it was unprofessional and I should't have done it.

I always found it difficult to separate being friendly with my colleagues whom I had known for nearly a decade and the managerial side of things. To me, it was a little blurred, but that was my failing as a manager, and I accepted that and still do.

The thing was (and this isn't removing myself my the blame, it is mine; I wish to give a little context) I had zero support outside of my immediate colleagues in the role and will openly admit I often was struggling. We had been without a manager for many months after she was unceremoniously removed to hang the blame for target failure on someone.

With her gone, there was just us, and as much as we supported each other and had some fantastic support from a senior colleague, it was difficutl for all. We weren't particularly popular with the then Director of Nursing, so had little help there and relied just on ourselves.

And we got the job done. Targets, though challenging, did not plummet, patients were reviewed, and advice was provided to any and all who asked and required it. We maintained a sense of fun and a truely supportive atmosphere. Though it was so hard for us all, it was perhaps the best time at work.

But I had no one to advise me on the now two jobs I was doing - my Lead Nurse role and now a managerial one, and I struggled. However, everyone was always supportive of me and kept me going.

We were all great together.

So yes, my failing as a leader was that I didn't distinguish enough between my responsibilities and that is on me, 100%.

I often vocally stated I didn't think I was the best person for the job, but at the time, no one else wanted it, and I had just been given it.

Now that there is a significant factor I believe in what followed.

I never gave it any thought and turned down the role three times when asked.

I was begged on the fourth request and said I would be happy to do it for six months until they found someone better.

Of course, our manager was removed, and no one was in charge, so I was kinda stuck.

Now, don't get me wrong (song time!), though I initially was reluctant, by default I learnt so very much from being in that position that I otherwise would not have had the opportunity to do. But it had been given to me and, in hindsight,m that must have pissed other colleagues off who had been there longer than me and were more experienced. I never thought about it in those terms and had no ego to bruise. But thinking about it afterwards and with what happened, I realised it would have, understandably, been a blow to colleagues who were as much, if not more so, qualified for the post.

But it wasn't my decision. I was asked for a favour, and because I would go to Hell for my manager at the time if she asked, I accepted.

When we eventually gained a new manager (who ended up being the person everyone told me they were, but that I had refused to believe it. I didn't actually realise how disliked this individual was until afterwards when people told me), the position I was still acting up in as Lead Nurse was put out for interview.

I and a colleague went for it. I had decided not to, but many other colleagues told me I should do, given my experience. I didn;t necessarily agree, but thought I had nothing to lose.

After a very strange presentation given in front of staff members who could drop in to hear it and a three-panel interview, neither myself nor my colleague was successful. I am uncertain as to why my significant other didn't get offered the post, but I was informed that I didn't have enough experience in the role.

After nearly two years.

But I was then asked by a senior member of staff (remember the A.N Other who suspended me?) if I would be willing to remain in the post until they found someone more suitable.

I kid you not. Those were the exact words.

I very politely said... no thank you and that was it.

I was relieved. I hadn't upset anyone in the acting up post, so going back to my Band 7 wouldn't be awkward and actually, I was instead looking forward to it. No more stress and extra responsibility. I could see patients again, conduct audits and visit the wards more than I had been able to.

That was pretty great. And my uniform still fit, so good times.

I turned up for work on Monday, in my old white tunic (which was excellent) and was called to a meeting where I was asked again by the then DoN if I would reconsider my thoughts on taking the role until someone else was found.

I politely advised that it had been humiliating to be asked to do that and that I would kindly decline their generous offer.

We then, as mentioned, had our new manager and things were looking up. After being just us nurses for so long, everyone was a little wary, but the manager soon inspired us and we saw it was an inspired choice. Not everyone agreed and we lost an amazing nurse because of the manager's behaviour, but that will come up later as it is relevant to my suspension.

Of course, I kept getting asked to go to meetings and carry out tasks that were Lead Nurse tasks. Now I'll be honest; this frustrated me a little. I had been told I hadn't enough experience for the role and they were looking for someone more suitable, but without a Lead Nurse, as the closest thing to it, I was expected to do these tasks.

Anyway, a few weeks later I was asked again because, and I quote, "I have observed the others and you are easily the best person for the job. You know it inside out and have the experience."

This is the experience I didn't have a few months ago.

I said I would do it on one condition - that we were left until last in the restructuring taking place.

It was agreed that that was a reasonable request and I had boomeranged back into the post... again.

Again, and I didn't think this at the time in my naivety, but this must have again really upset some of the others. And I understand it now. But at the time, I just wanted to team to be able to move forward and have a fresh start.

I knew not everyone agreed with me in the role - some didn't like my relaxed approach to things and how I put the well being of the team first and foremost. Maybe they were right. Perhaps I did mollycoddle them too much.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

Anyway, back to the suspension meeting.

So, I had told the joke and accepted it was wrong.

I was then asked if I had delivered a particular presentation on a past away day.

I was shown it and said I had.

The slides had consisted of the formal, away day stuff - figures, targets, where were we, where are we going etc. and a more fun opening with, what I thought were funny slides.

I accept I dropped the ball on this one.

For example, I had put up a photo of a drunk woman and said it was so-and-so at the end of the week.

I know, I know.

Or there was a photo of a cartoon character as I had a nickname for one of my colleagues. Not an offensive nickname, just a nickname.

Or there was a photo of a bodybuilder as one of my colleagues enjoyed exercise.

I know, not good at all.

I thought, and this is my familiarity thing again, that as we had known each other for so long (and I took the mick out of myself too with a picture of House as I was always being told I said the wrong thing in social circumstances) it would be a bit of fun before the serious stuff.

Now, in my defence, not a soul complained at the time. It was more than two years later then this presentation was raised as part of my suspension.

Again, I was told it had been 'found'.

Two years later and three months into my suspension. Not raised at the time or since not amongst the initial allegations. But 'found'.

Once again I had messed up, big time. I didn't get the whole managerial thing, and I wasn't good at it, but I was offered no support whatsoever. No complaints either I might add, but no help.

So, at the time, I thought I was doing okay.

I accept my wrongdoings for the joke and the presentation, and I am finally given a panel date for my disciplinary.

Up until this time, I had consistently mentioned that there was a nurse, the individual who had raised these alligations and whom I had raised concerns about to my manager the day before my suspension, who had subsequently;y been identified by another colleague as a bully. Someone else came forward a gave a verbal and written statement to this effect and you had two statements reporting the behaviour of this team member.

I was told the evidence had been presented to someone high up and they had said it would be investigated after my disciplinary was concluded.

Okay, not great, but at least they are taking it seriously.

Long story short - nine hours in total for the panel and I am cleared of all charges (that is bullying and favouritism) unanimously and completely, with the joke sanction partially upheld and breeching of policy completely upheld.

Fair enough.

I was told I could return to work and arrangements would be made.

I think, aside form my marriage, children being born and meeting George Lucas, it was the happiest moment of my life!

Would it be easy returning to somewhere where you knew people had accused you of something you didn't do and had consistently stated was the case?

No. I was under no illusions.

But I so desperately wanted to be back at work, doing what I loved. I wasn't angry with my accusers, I was profoundly sad.

But everything passes and I would move on eventually, as it rightly couldn't go back to how it was, and it would be over and done with.

No recriminations, all forgotten.

I have a meeting about my return to work the following week. I am terrified, scared and anxious beyond belief. I am asked what support I feel I need; I say that I appreciate that my colleagues may need it more, but that I am thankful it is all over and just want to be back at work.

I can come back the following week, the staff will be told, and we say our goodbyes.

All that week, I am so scared. I haven't spoken to anyone for six months. It will be awkward, strange, terrifying, humbling and so much more.

I'm so glad it's over, and my name is cleared. I knew I wasn't a bully, but it means so much when a panel of your peers agree and support all the evidence you presented to prove otherwise.

The day before my big return arrives and I haven't heard anything, which I think is a little odd.

I call up and leave a message which I am told will be returned.

I am called back by a senior member of management and when I ask is everything okay for my return, I'm told no.

I'm confused and ask what has happened.

Though this wasn't said at the time (I was re-suspended pending an investigation), it turns out that when my return had been announced, everyone had been pleased and was looking forward to it.

Except for my accuser and my manager.

And two other colleagues (call them b and c) who, until recently, had been supportive of me.

What follows are actual quotes -

C said to someone only a few months before 'she is distraught about the whole thing. She feels terrible not being able to speak to you. She's been enquiring if this is legal. She cares so much about you.'

D said to someone 'she is thinking of you, she just can't contact you. Got upset when I saw her.'

But now, bearing in mind no one has spoken to me from work nor have I spoke to anyone aside from my desperate message at Christmas. Two colleagues, out of nowhere who had no issues at all, no accusations, no problems and in their first statements were 100% supportive of me (you only get to see everyone's comments when you go to a panel. Prior to that, I literally knew nothing) have joined my manager and my accuser and said if I am allowed to return to work, they will leave.

Exactly, that. If I am allowed to return to work, they will leave.

They blackmailed a senior manager into threatening that if I go back, they will go elsewhere.

And the senior manager said "Okay, then."

So, I have been cleared of the allegations, accepted my telling off for the joke and policy breech, and am suspended again for 'non-disciplinary reasons.'

What has caused two colleagues, friends (these are the people who held my infant son, sat on my sofa, asked us to their house at Christmas every year), with no contact with me whatsoever, to suddenly say if I go back, they will leave.

Oh, and two of them have decided to state in the same moment that I was having an affair with a colleague.

Well, that all went south quickly!

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