Case 070 - Charity

I spent fourteen years (more than a quarter of my life) working for a local charity which had the objects of 'the protection of health' and 'the relief of poverty, distress and sickness'. This charity sacked me on the grounds of my (mental) ill health which was caused (according to my own GP and consultant psychiatrist, as well as the Occupational Health Service report commissioned by my employers) by stress at work. It was only much later, after reading information contained at Bully OnLine that I came to realise that the breakdown I experienced and my subsequent mental ill health was caused by bullying at work.

In my own case (and, I believe, those of others employed by that charity, which in the years 1997- 2001 had a staff turnover of up to 30% and has also had some recent difficulty in recruiting staff) the bullying included:

continuous fault-finding and criticism, often of a trivial nature where each individual incident was petty - but the overall effect of years of this treatment was severely demoralizing;

  • a refusal to acknowledge, let alone deal with, legitimate Health and Safety concerns raised by staff (for example, the size, lighting and ventilation of workrooms; the safety and welfare of staff on duty alone at night in a building which was open to the public; and the lack of fire escape routes from upper storey rooms);
  • being overloaded with work without being given the resources and training to accomplish it effectively (in my case, despite my requests, my line manager refused to discuss my training needs and I was refused the clerical assistance that I asked for);
  • the person who was the target of the bullying at any given time (including me when it came to 'my turn') being singled out and treated differently from others; for instance, everyone else could do whatever was the conduct that warranted disciplinary action except the target (in my case, for example, I was subjected to disciplinary action while no action was taken in relation to at least two other senior staff who did exactly the same thing);
  • having a 'divide and rule' culture where the current target of the bullying was isolated, separated from colleagues, not given information necessary to enable him/her to do their job (or given contradictory information/instructions), excluded, marginalized, overruled, ignored, sidelined and frozen out. Staff who were not the target colluded with this (including, to my regret, me before my breakdown) * if they did not, they might (and often did) become targets (I believe it is significant * and ironical - that, as long as I colluded in the bullying of others, my work was considered 'good'. Once I realized what was happening throughout the organization and began challenging the culture, my work and conduct became 'unsatisfactory');
  • finding that work - and the credit for it - was stolen and plagiarized;
  • having responsibility increased but authority taken away. In my case, I eventually found myself in the impossible situation of having to deputise for a person (who, while extremely able, was, in my opinion, the 'serial bully' who was the cause of all the problems * a manipulative megalomaniac of the Robert Maxwell type) who refused to speak to me, refused to discuss work or priorities, or to brief me on current issues;
  • having annual leave or time off in lieu of (frequent) evening meetings refused (after I no longer worked there, I heard of a member of staff being refused a day's annual leave to attend her son's graduation ceremony * I understand that she went on sick leave and never returned);
  • having unrealistic goals set, which changed without any explanation other than 'you misunderstood' (conversely, however, if another member of staff had not understood me, it was always 'because you did not give clear information');
  • having deadlines changed at short notice - or no notice - and without relevant staff being informed until it was too late * they (we) were then castigated or disciplined for having failed to meet the deadline;
  • twisting, distorting and misrepresenting what the target said and did;
  • being subjected to disciplinary procedures with verbal or written warnings imposed for trivial or fabricated reasons and without proper investigation or procedures (my Trade Union representative said, at one late stage, that 'he would not have believed it if he had not seen it for himself');
  • being coerced into leaving, including through constructive dismissal, early or ill-health retirement (although it was 'retirement' with no pension);
  • not being permitted (on grounds of 'confidentiality' * which was a word used a lot * I now realize to perpetuate and strengthen the divide and rule culture and prevent staff from supporting each other and seeking support from relevant external sources) to seek advice on employment rights. The Director of the local Citizens Advice Bureau told me that, on four separate occasions [including my own case], staff of this charity were prevented from seeking help from the CAB on their employment rights. On a separate occasion, a member of staff was subjected to disciplinary action on grounds of 'breach of confidentiality' for discussing with her Project Officer from Social Services Department a problem relating to her employment that she had tried, several times, to raise internally without any response from her manager).

Throughout its existence, this charity has experienced various management problems which, I now believe, were caused, fundamentally, by the bullying culture of that organization despite its charitable objects. I also believe that, if the bullying had been prevented, none or few of the incidents would have occurred and staff would have felt much more motivated to achieve the best for the charity and its beneficiaries.

However, like Pontius Pilate, all those who could have effected the necessary changes (eg Management Committee members, funding bodies, the Charity Commission) chose to wash their hands of their responsibilities.

Working for that charity was like working in a fairground Hall of Mirrors. On going in, it was obvious how distorted and ugly everything was. Many staff got out at that stage (hence the 30% turnover?) But if one had the great misfortune to have a mortgage to pay, or a family to feed, and needed the income, the longer one stayed, the more one got sucked into the situation and became part of the distortion. It was only on getting out into the real world that the distortion again became obvious.

At the time I believed (and was encouraged to believe) that the faults were all mine, and this nearly destroyed me, and I seriously considered committing suicide. However, since then, I have had two further jobs, both in the public sector, the second one being very pressured with a requirement to produce very high quality work to very tight deadlines and have been involved in a number of voluntary activities. Nowhere, before or after, has been like the experiences I had in that organization. As soon as I was sacked (even though I was very distressed and angry), my problems ceased. The charity's problems continued. I think that says it all!

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