Tag Archives: Anti bullying week

Workplace Bullying

When you hear about bullying, what does it make you think of? Does it bring back bad memories of your time at school?

According to research carried out in 2016 by one of the largest anti-bullying charities in the world, Ditch the Label, between 50 and 60% of young people aged between 12 and 20 in the UK will have experienced some form of bullying in the last year. That, to me, is a frighteningly large percentage, especially knowing that both G and M form part of those statistics; and so do I. Any child who has experienced bullying hopes that it will end when they have new friends, or find themselves in a new class, or when their time at that particular school draws to a close. You also assume that once you’ve grown up and have left education behind you, the bullying will stop, but sadly that’s not always the case. The statistics regarding workplace bullying are much harder to pinpoint, but a Forbes survey in the USA suggested that up to 75% of workers are affected by bullying and a 2015 ACAS study here in the UK revealed the undeniable truth that workplace bullying is on the increase and that many people are too afraid to talk about it.

Having struggled with bullying throughout my school years, I never dreamed that I might experience it again in adulthood and when I came up against workplace bullying the first time, it took me a while to realise and acknowledge it and then to find the courage to deal with it. M had just been born and, due to the difficulties of my pregnancy and his subsequent early arrival, I wanted to work closer to home, finding what seemed to be the perfect job in a small accountancy practice almost literally across the road from where we lived. Unfortunately, the reality of being verbally belittled and my capability as an accountant questioned in front of my colleagues on a daily basis was destructive and I eventually found myself seeking to escape that unhealthy work environment. It was only at the point of handing in my notice that I felt able to be honest with my boss about his bullying behaviour and whilst he was apologetic as he hadn’t realised his words were so damaging, that work relationship had been destroyed and I needed to move on.

I’ve been lucky since then to find myself in jobs working with some truly lovely people, who have been there to build me back up and consequently I have seen my confidence and self-belief soar. Despite what people might think, I am naturally an introvert and am most definitely not a fan of confrontation, but I’ve learned to stand my ground, speak out for myself and defend not just my decisions, but also those of my children and my colleagues. That shy, insecure little girl who wouldn’t say boo to goose still hides inside, but I’ve discovered a strength to speak up and speak out even in situations where my more natural instinct would be to run away and hide, hoping that someone else would be the one to voice their opinions.

Which is why it’s so difficult to believe that in the past year, I have found myself a victim of workplace bullying once again and in a position where it has been much more difficult to address than I could ever imagine. Sly comments questioning the professional ability of both me and my staff, carefully cloaked in phrases that could be excused away as being mis-construed by the individual they were aimed at as well as more blatant challenges of my financial decisions for the business in management meetings that have been ignored by our Executive Director have become an unavoidable part of my working week. Added to that is the deliberate exclusion of me and my team members from a number of workplace events and meetings, some far more significant than others. Exclusion is, without a doubt, one of the hardest types of bullying to deal with and whether I’m my insecure 12-year-old self or a more confident version at 40, it still eats away at what little self-belief I’ve managed to hold on to over the years.

These behaviours have left me struggling to be my usual positive and sunny self in the office, as inside I’ve been slowly crumbling to pieces. I do have a tendency to believe the very best of people, so it’s no surprise that initially I genuinely didn’t think this was a deliberate attempt to whittle away my self-esteem. The gradual realisation that nearly all of these actions have been carried out intentionally, although I still wholeheartedly think that they are reflective of the individual’s own insecurities and a need to defend her role in the business, means that I have distanced myself as much as I possibly can and will not leave myself vulnerable if at all possible.

Of course, my response now is far different to what it was as a child and yet the effects of those experiences are the same. I have been left feeling ignored, belittled and unappreciated and the deliberate decision by my direct line manager to whitewash over what is going on and excuse the behaviour of this bully as being stress-related has naturally impacted on the ongoing working relationship I have with both him and this workplace bully. I feel as if my concerns have been deemed ridiculous, unimportant and as an over-sensitive reaction on my part, which leaves me questioning just how long I can reasonably remain in this post. Unbelievably our workplace policy on bullying requires that “….Initially a member of staff should request that the bully should stop, explaining how it makes them feel either face-to-face or by writing a personal letter or email…“, something I honestly believe no-one being bullied would be able to do, especially when the most senior members of management so blatantly excuse and support the bully along the way.  It takes unbelievable courage to be able to talk openly and honestly about how you’re feeling about decisions being taken in the workplace and, in my opinion, remarkable cowardice on the part of management to dismiss what’s being said as an irrational response.

I don’t know what the next 12 months will bring when it comes to my career, but finding the courage to speak out both in the workplace and on my blog has empowered me more than I ever thought possible. Workplace bullying is real and we should never forget or ignore that truth.

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All Different, All Equal

This week is Anti-bullying week and this year the campaign has adopted the tagline “All different, All equal” to promote difference and equality in schools. As the Anti-bullying Alliance’s website states, the idea behind this is to “…help children and young people celebrate what makes them, and others, unique and help them understand why it’s important that every child feels included in school able to be themselves without fear of bullying...” This has struck a particularly resonant chord with me as feeling different to classmates is something that not only do I recall from my own school days, but something I am aware both G and M have felt over the years.

For me, and let me be brutally honest right now, I hated every moment of living with T1D as a teen. Not only was I having to deal with the challenges of impending adulthood and puberty like all of my peers, but my T1D added another layer to the emotional mix that I really didn’t want to have to face. At school I felt like the odd man out. I didn’t really know anyone else my age with T1D and I was the first diabetic in my school. I suffered extreme teenage angst about not being able to buy sweets and chocolate from the break-time tuck shop and that seemingly small thing became a massive problem that I struggled to overcome. My friends accepted my differences far more readily than I did and yet I felt alienated from them. My own anxieties and poor self-image became mountains I just couldn’t scale, particularly when some of the other girls in my school year began to exclude me from friendships that had been there since I was little and threw cruel words in my direction which hit incredibly deep.  Whether they had truly identified my lack of self-esteem as an easy target for their unkind comments and actions or not, I can still recall just how devastating that time in my life was for me. I’m sure that I was not on my own with those feelings, but I felt isolated in a world that seemed to be quite happy without me.

Sadly, G struggled similarly during her Infant school years when so-called friends who had helped ease her move to a new school, discovered that her health issues could be used as a taunt against her and caused her unbelievable emotional pain. Thanks to a fantastic and supportive Year 2 teacher, G was encouraged to tackle the bullies and their behaviour head-on and she learned to stand up for herself, something I didn’t learn until I was much, much older. I know that her gluten- and dairy-free diet still makes her feel too different to the rest of her tutor group for comfort and she has struggled with sticking to the restrictions, especially when her friends are enjoying treats that she would love to be able to eat. We’ve worked to fill her lunchbox with foods and snacks that make her feel a little more “normal” and a part of the crowd, and I will continue to hope that this doesn’t become a cause for bullying as she moves her way through secondary school.

Likewise, M’s complex medical needs have left him being subjected to cruel words and unkind actions in the past, something that is not unusual in the world of chronic illness. Whether it is an obvious physical difference, or something more hidden like T1D or allergies, the sad truth is that children can, and will, be cruel. All children are fighting to find their place in the world and will look to find their footing without regard for those surrounding them and especially not for their feelings. As parents we need to teach our children about the beauty in diversity and encourage them to be kind in their thoughts and deeds. My children are wonderfully unique as are their friends and that is something to embrace wholeheartedly and without reservation. This year I will be making sure that they understand the truth in these words: All different, all equal.

Beating the Bullies – Anti-bullying Week 2014

November’s proving to be a busy month, what with Armistice Day (11th), Children in Need (14th), World Prematurity Day (17th) and this week it’s the turn of Anti-bullying week (17th-21st).  The aim of the week is to raise awareness of bullying and encourages children, young people, schools, parents and carers to come together and work towards stopping bullying for all.  There are no official statistics about the prevalence of bullying across the UK, but recent reports state that almost 45,000 children spoke to ChildLine about bullying during 2013, a worryingly high number and one that’s unlikely to scratch the surface of the problem.

Bullying is defined as Repeated incidents of physical or mental abuse (teasing, taunting, name calling, threatening, isolating) of a weaker person by a stronger person.”  Stronger is not necessarily defined by size, but also includes those who are more confident or more able to pinpoint a weakness in the person they are victimising. The sad reality is that this naturally makes disabled children or those with special educational needs a prime target for bullies and they are more likely to experience bullying in school and in the wider community that other groups.  The focus of this year’s campaign is to eradicate bullying for these vulnerable individuals in particular.

This focus has struck a particular chord with me this week as M has been dealing with some bullying over the last few weeks at school.  Some of the boys in his class have been teasing him about his allergies by saying that they are allergic to him and then pretending to be physically sick. This has had a knock-on impact in the playground, where the same children have then been avoiding playing with him, leaving him feeling isolated and on his own.  He has some good friends, who have stuck by his side and defended him when he’s felt unable to do it himself; and his big sister has lent her support too by watching out for him whenever she can and inviting him, and his friends, to join in games that she’s playing with hers.

Unfortunately, M’s complicated needs – dyspraxia, dyslexia, EGID and food allergies – make him an obvious candidate for attention from bullies, who only need the smallest difference to focus in on and attack. We’ve taught him to stand up for himself without being aggressive or rude, to ignore whenever possible the comments made and to walk away when the going gets tough; but it’s not an easy issue to tackle.  Right now, he’s anxious about their response when he finally has his tube fitted and is even worrying about how things will go next year, once G has moved on to secondary school.  Don’t get me wrong, his teacher and the school have been proactive in dealing with the bullies, but they can’t take away his fears or his belief that he’s not being heard.

Sadly he’s not on his own.  Children with complex medical needs can feel isolated by their illness as they struggle with feeling different and the questions of why they can’t be like their friends or why they are so frequently absent from school.  Even those with better known conditions, such as T1D or asthma, may have limited contact with others of the same age who are dealing with the same issues and I can only imagine how much harder it is for those with rare illnesses, who may know no-one else with the same diagnosis in their area.  A lack of true understanding about their medical needs and the impact on their everyday life can add to their frustration and the sense of being on their own.  Adding bullying to that already tumultuous mix is often a burden too many and these children may head into a downwards spiral that can result in poor self-confidence, depression and even self-harm.

What can we do?  I don’t have an easy answer to that difficult question.  As a parent I can educate my children to respect the differences of their peers and not to belittle those who don’t conform to society’s notion of “normal”.  I can encourage them to enjoy friendships with everyone and not just those who have similar interests or hobbies.  I can teach them that sometimes they won’t see eye to eye with their classmates and that those differences of opinion is what will challenge and shape their own beliefs.

And as a parent to children who stand out from the crowd, I can help them find their feet in our world, to stand strong when challenged and to see the value in their very uniqueness.