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© Medical Sciences Division and John Cairns

I don’t think there is any one of us on this planet who would consider ourselves a bully and most of us would say that they don’t suffer such behaviour in their own teams.  I am also sure that we have all been subjected to or observed bullying or harassment at some stage in our careers whether we would choose to admit to it or not. So where are they?

First of all, it must be recognised that we are all members of the genus Homo Sapiens which necessarily means that we have emotions, opinions, pressures, personal goals, preferences and complex personalities. To make matters even more difficult, these attributes vary from person to person.  Some of us are thick-skinned and equipped to ride the storm, others suffer from a lack of confidence or anxiety which means that our perceptions of what is acceptable also differ – the phrase ‘one man’s meat is another man’s poison’ springs to mind.

The government website for bullying and harassment lists the following as examples of bullying: spreading malicious rumours; unfair treatment; picking on or regularly undermining someone; or denying someone’s training or promotion opportunities.  Therein lies the problem: these are such broad categories that bullying can sometimes be difficult to identify.

Have you ever been pushed for time and feeling stressed, requested something from a colleague in a hurried, perhaps snappy way? Have you ever betrayed a confidence unwittingly?  Have you ever criticised a colleague in front of others?  Is there a member of your team who you know needs additional training and growth before they can take on more responsibility – but you’ve put off having a frank but constructive way to share this with them?    

I am sure that every one of us has been guilty of some of the behaviour above at one time or another.   If we catch ourselves doing this, the only solution is to recognise the damage incurred, apologise and strive to change future behaviours. We must, ALL of us, line managers or team members, remain aware of our impact on others.  

When such incidents are severe or taking place repeatedly by the same perpetrators and sometimes directed at the same recipients then we need to prick up our ears and take action.  Now, that may sound rather drastic but in fact the first action should be awareness; a quiet word in someone’s ear, or perhaps an enquiry if all is well with the individual concerned.  Nine times out of ten the perpetrator was unaware of the impact they were having on others and will be mortified and correct themselves.   Perhaps the individual in question is in a position of power?  Then a quiet word in the ear of a respected colleague on the same level may do the trick.  

Alternatively, the department has a list of trusted Bullying and Harassment Advisors who have all been briefed and are trained to listen to your concerns, whether you are a witness or a victim.  They are bound to keep the information confidential until permission is given to take the matter through the robust processes for safeguarding that exist in the department.  Of course, if the activity reported is illegal or constitutes a danger to life then the advisors are duty bound to take the matter further.

It must be noted, at this juncture, that NDS has a level of reported bullying and harassment that falls well below the national average but we would like to be as sure as we can, that incidents are not just going unreported and unaddressed.

No member of our staff deserves to go home at the end of a day feeling bullied and the responsibility rests with all of us, academics, clinicians, or professional and support staff, to remain aware of our own impact on others and to be watchful of such behaviours around us.  Notwithstanding, please be yourselves whilst affording each other the respect that we all deserve and don’t forget that work should be fun!

For more information, please visit our bullying and harassment web page.

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