This week I am going to present a hypothetical situation and solicit responses to the scenario presented.

I want you to imagine that a band 7 (or equivalent) manager has been recently appointed to an organisation with a very clear remit from the boss to analyse the workplace issues and implement improvements in service delivery, service user engagement and stakeholder relationships. Somewhat surprisingly the appointment has also been welcomed by the staff within the organisation as they know this individual already as she has been interacting with the organisation for a number of years. They all like her and have been quite candid with her over the last few months.

She has known the organisation firstly as a creative arts practitioner working with patients and carers and then with some staff development sessions that were memorable, fantastically good fun and enlightening and then  latterly she has been providing clinical supervision sessions for the nursing team.

This relationship has always been amicable and she has provided some very honest and astute feedback to the CEO, senior manager and non-executive director in relation to her concerns about workplace culture and some very entrenched and limited thinking about patient safety and governance issues. In spite of this insight and knowledge she decides to apply for a post within the organisation and when successful looks forward to working with everyone to bring about more constructive and functional relationships and encourage engagement and accountability across the team.

The first month has some tricky issues to navigate with empty beds and a seemingly fractured relationship developing between the organisation and other care providers who deliver similar care to the local population.  Her predecessor is still in post having taken a demotion and as her deputy the new manager expects some insight and guidance from both her predecessor and the CEO but no insights are forthcoming. After a further few months in post she begins to feel at a complete loss and isolated and is concerned about what to do in relation to the external relationships and has realised that a siege mentality has developed and that everyone is blaming everyone else for what has happened.

After some reflection and discussions with external stakeholders the new manager realises she has a huge mountain to climb. This would be a massive task in itself but what she has also discovered is that the nursing team’s behaviour and culture are reminiscent of her early experiences as a student nurse and this is surfacing some unwelcome emotions and she finds herself very distressed and crying on a number of occasions. She knows what the issue is but her emotional response is exacerbated by her boss who is becoming openly hostile towards her because of her emotional state. The HR department blame the situation on her lack of management experience and also suggests that the dysfunctional workforce need “a bomb up their arses” to get them to realise what it is like to work in 21st century health care settings. Both the CEO & HR agree that the new manager is being bullied by her staff and that the stress requires attention.

My question to you is what would you do if you were working with this person and after 6 months you realise that she is struggling with the emotional demands of both the role and the cultural change needed?

The options available to you are:-

  1. Find a peer support scheme and actively encourage discussion, effective supervision and professional development. Encourage this dynamic and imaginative individual to explore their issues and encourage a culture of questioning and improvement.
  2. Encourage honest and open discussion about whether this is the right role and whether the career move may not have been the right one and that exploration of future alternatives might be wise.
  3. Have meetings behind her back with staff and encourage malevolence and dissent. Ring the CQC with an anonymous complaint about concerns about the manager’s mental health and then cry when she resigns from her post. When she leaves you weave a story about how she was “always out of her depth” and that maybe she wasn’t a wise appointment.

What would you do?

A version of this scenario is happening in the real world far too often  and it has to stop. People are so upset about their workplace that they cry in the car before going to the office, people feeling physically sick and unsure about what to do to make the situation any better.

COWARDICE allows these hostile and miserable cultures to exist – calling it for what it is requires courage and determination but unless we do take a stand against deception and the blinkered maintenance of the status quo then we will continue to lose expertise and talent from the workplace.

Fabulous individuals scarred by these traumatic experiences may never function well in the workplace again and may have real problems finding fulfilling and purposeful employment. Do you want your organisation culpable in this sad situation or is it time to stand up to this issue and ensure that people thrive at work and enjoy their practice and want to do the best they can when they are there?

Professional bodies, trades unions and OD professionals need to acknowledge that these situations may happen on their watch and that it is time to take stand and be honest, open and curious about how to remedy the issues. It isn’t rocket science,  it is much more complicated than that but there are facilitators with the skills and knowledge to help. There is no shame in admitting that these situations need to improve, shame leads to untold and silenced stories and this can be a malignant and toxic force. I believe that kindness and curiosity will eventually enable folk to explore and navigate the issues, give it time and attention then folk can thrive not just survive in their workplace.

It might not always be that simple but sometimes it is!



4 thoughts on “Questions

  1. Julie says:

    Brave, insightful post … I cry in the way to work every day, and then plaster a fake smile on my face and try and convince myself I am fine …


    • Thanks for sharing. I was fortunate to have a supportive family and savings, others don’t have that luxury and have to put and shut up. It isn’t on and isn’t up to individuals to be more resilient etc..


  2. Versions of this are happening in many work places not just in the healthcare professions. It is shocking how widespread it is. COWARDICE IS definitely a huge part of the problem where staff members and other onlookers watch and turn a blind eye to what is happening right in front of them including (amazingly) physical, verbal and emotional abuse. Perhaps part of the problem is that some people fear for their own jobs if the abuser is senior to them and therefore don’t want to put their head above the parapet but unless and until people are prepared to stand up and be counted nothing will change, while the abused will leave with their self esteem and emotional and physical health in tatters. It takes a long time to recover and the scars never go away.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for these comments. I am exploring the issue of “in plain sight” and why people turn away, ignore or overlook what might be happening in front of them. I agree that recovering from these experiences is a long process and I do wonder if some of us will ever really be able to function effectively in the workplace again. I sometimes wonder if I am broken and that any repair is just too fragile or if I can turn it into a different, albeit less robust, way of being.


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