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Jun 17 2010

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Workplace bullying in the UK

from guardian.co.uk

As the UK holds its national Ban Bullying At Work Day, Maureen Levey explains how three years’ worth of bullying in the workplace led to her being hospitalised earlier in 2007 with trauma, depression and anxiety. She describes how her ordeal drove her to the brink of suicide and why she hopes her experience might ultimately help others.

I was bullied for about three years at my workplace. I became progressively ill until on March 23 2007 I went for a consultation at the Capio Nightingale hospital in London. I was admitted as an inpatient suffering with depression and anxiety three days later for an initial two weeks. This turned into four weeks as an inpatient, and two further months attending day care.

During my stay in hospital, I began to reflect on the things that had happened to me at work and began to understand that I had been bullied. Initially it was by my team leader, but gradually other people on the team began to mimic her behaviour.

It was subtle at first. She would put work back on my desk and say I had missed off small tasks. This was fine whilst I was new to the job, but after three years of her constantly picking faults in my work I was under no illusions that she was just trying to find things to undermine me. She would give my work to other people to redo instead of giving it to me, so I didn’t know what I had done wrong, and this had the added effect of encouraging others on the team to resent me.

I tried to tell people at work. I told my manager that I was intimidated by my team leader. He just scoffed and said that she was not in the slightest bit intimidating. I spoke to the team leader during my annual review and brought up that I thought she was bullying me. I did not write this in my performance review form as I didn’t think it was the right forum to express these views – I subsequently found out that it would have added weight to my complaint if I had done so.

I also spoke to the staff counsellor who said I had to stop being a victim. People can smell a victim, she said. I was in floods of tears and didn’t find this advice very helpful. Indeed, it was a contractor for the company who got me out of the situation in the end. I feel as if the people who actually worked there full-time just wanted the whole issue to disappear and if it had been left to them, nothing would have happened.

After three weeks in hospital, I felt strong enough to lodge a formal grievance against my team leader. I had hoped that I wouldn’t have to take that step because she was retiring in July and I had hoped that I could just put up with her abuse for a little while longer. However, things didn’t work out that way and I ended up in hospital.

My employer did an internal investigation and found that they had no case to answer. I was initially very upset by this but as the investigation had taken a couple of months and I was still in hospital, I had recovered substantially by the time this decision was made. Standing up for myself by initiating a grievance had given me back my self-esteem and meant that no matter what happened, I knew what I had been through and no one could take that away from me.

I lodged an appeal because I had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder whilst in hospital, which is a real condition caused by trauma and not just a side-effect of depression. The appeal upheld the original decision, which I had anticipated.

My life has changed enormously over the past six months. I am now much better. It staggers me to think that I was preparing to throw myself under a tube train, and now I have a new lease of life. I have secured a new job with a caring employer who knows all about why I left my previous role. I have also been accepted to do a year-long course in counselling at my local college so that I can help others.

Most of all, I try to apply Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to my daily life and look at my life in a realistic way rather than in a pessimistic or catastrophic way. The person I was six months ago has disappeared and now I am a strong, healthy, happier person with a lot to live for.

I do not have anger towards my bully now, I see her as the weak person that she is. In some ways, the life skills I have now learned I would not have known about if it had not been for what happened. I wouldn’t want anyone to be in the position I was in, but it has made me a strong person and I hope to be able to help others in the future with what I have learnt.

Part of me wishes that I had the money to take my employer to court, but I know that the company is a much bigger entity than me and they will do anything to keep their reputation intact. I know that other people who work there are going through grievances about bullying at the moment. There is a serious problem in that company and I wish that I could have helped change that. Hopefully, by speaking out I will help someone.

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