Editorial: We can only hope bullying will be tackled in 2015

Sunday Supplement

The editor voices his views on Moray’s most topical events of the past year…..

Workplace Bullying – progress?

I would dearly love to be able to report on nothing but good news in 2015 – a year of tolerance of each conflicting viewpoint held by Moray’s individuals, groups and communities.

Alas, I very much doubt we will see that happening in a society that seems to revel in destructive personal vendetta overcoming reasoned discussion.

2014 ended with two reports on insideMoray highlighting the end of a community council in the midst of bullying and intimidation claims. I’m not going to comment on the circumstances that led to the Innes Community Council having to be disbanded – the fact is only those directly involved know the truth of that.

However, it is another glaring example of how things get out of hand in our communities, where people who volunteer to do good end up so entrenched in conflicting ‘camps’ they fail to rise above the standards normally only seen on a primary school playground.

We have seen it this year time and again in the Chamber at Moray Council. It was a fantastic idea by our Council to broadcast each meeting live on the internet – alas, I doubt in doing so they took into consideration the fact that the public would witness in rising numbers the petty point-scoring and squabbling that goes on between grown men and women in our name.

We have also seen it on the pages of our own social media site – occasional visits from people who have no wish to enter into reasoned discussion, but rather visit to espouse their own entrenched viewpoint or, all too often, to merely intimidate and bully other members of the online community.

We are all guilty of getting carried away in the moment at times with words or actions that can be interpreted by some as bullying – but most of us step back from the brink when we realise that we are losing it and so a discussion is allowed to end in an amiable manner. Some cannot and will not do that, and therein is the problem.

Bullying is an issue that few people appear to want to talk about. In March this year I switched from running insideMoray as a part-time hobby to it being a full-time community news resource, and one of the first stories I covered was on bullying in the workplace at Moray Council.

That story actually led to recriminations from a Council official unhappy that the story was reported without his having been consulted, and ultimately it led to the situation where to this day this website has a zero rating with the media office at the local authority.

My view then and now is that insideMoray would not follow the traditional doctrines on news reporting, ours is a community news platform that would report fairly but unhindered by any official or political interference.

In November, that was clearly picked up by one former member of staff at Moray Council, who sent in a 5000-word report on her harrowing experiences of bullying in the workplace both for herself and for other members of staff.

Back in July, Moray Council agreed that they would be introducing a programme of change that they hoped would put an end to what was described by one Councillor as a “culture of bullying” in the local authority. A working group was set up with the task of reporting back with measures to end a culture that almost one-third of staff had reported existed.

I’m not aware of progress from that working group six months down the line, but perhaps we can look forward to that making some real progress in 2015.

A harrowing case of bullying in Moray

It has to. The report insideMoray received is one that I had to think long and hard over how or even if we should report.

I will not name the lady concerned but her case will be well known to Council officials, members and both our MP and MSP who were called on to help her case, as was Unison officials.

To give just an example of the personal anguish felt I will, however, relate some of what was transmitted to me.

The former Moray Council employee said: “I was, amongst others, forced from my job through harassment and bullying by management, and in my own particular case the treatment I was put through also involved disability discrimination, my line manager having targeted me from the moment she knew of my health condition Ulcerative Colitis and later with a further diagnosis of associated Inflammatory Arthritis.

“This ill treatment was taken further by another more senior manager who took over my section following a Change Management Plan, which also made significant cuts to staff numbers.”

On the start of her own personal bullying experience she said: “My experiences of [one] line manager in my early stages of work there was of constant criticism to me and fellow colleagues, attempts to drag me and others into humiliating others.

“One of her favourite phrases was ‘why have a dog and bark yourself’, and she told me when she got me on my own she was going to get rid of me because I had a chronic health condition and was not able for my job nor [of] use to her despite the fact an occupational health report and my conduct stated I was completely fit for my post.

“She went out of her way to grind me down over a few years and took me unnecessarily through absence procedures following an absence of five working days in 2004, telling me that was her getting me out.”

Speaking of the effects over several years she added: “I could not sleep. My health was suffering immensely, and my relationship and home life suffered.

“I became depressed and was put on medication for a short time, but also sought counselling, which helped me handle things better. I then had an accident at work brought on by being over worked by the line managers demands.”

Change in 2015?

Launch of anti-bullying site in Elgin this month.

There are signs of change in 2015 with the report of the committee at Moray Council tasked with dealing with workplace bullying, but also with the initiative recently launched in Moray and the Highlands by Rhoda Grant MSP.

The lady who wrote her 5000-word report to me would, I’m sure, have appreciated this initiative coming much earlier – but it will prove to be a valuable resource in future.

Rhoda was absolutely spot on when she said: “It is a sad reflection on society in the 21st century when bullying is rife within the work place as well as at schools, colleges and in other forms of life.

“The individual who suffers at the hands of bullies is scarred for a very long time if not for life.

“Such behaviour causes mental health issues to the innocent sufferer who is subject to bouts of anxiety, depression, stress, associated illnesses and ultimately absence from work.”

We can only hope that the New Year will bring much more caring and tolerant attitudes in the workplace. I fear, however, that the same in our online communities and the Council Chamber might just be a little out of our reach.

(The website launched by Rhoda Grant MSP can be found at http://www.tobie.org.uk/)

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