Bullying, bitching and bad language

23rd January 2004 at 00:00
Shocking report lists complaints about treatment of staff at Nottinghamshire LSC. Ngaio Crequer reports

The 47-page (including appendices) report into allegations of bullying at the Nottinghamshire Learning and Skills Council contains a disturbing record of staff regularly insulted, demeaned, devalued - and many subsequently quitting.

The inquiry, by Acas, the arbitration and conciliation service was set up by the national Learning and Skills Council and the Public and Commercial Services Union, PCS. It followed weeks of reporting by FE Focus into bullying allegations at the council, which has a budget of pound;150 million. David Russell, national LSC human resources director, and Rob Valentine, executive director of Notts LSC, gave their commitment to the process.

It says: "The majority of staff have grave concerns about employee relations at Notts LSC, and... contented staff are in a minority." The biggest issues are personality-based management, inappropriate behaviour and bullying tactics.

"The casual and open use of obscenities and derogatory remarks (both sexual and otherwise) is seen as being propagated at senior level and permeating down the organisation."

One complaint by staff was of inappropriate dress: no shoes, low-cut tops, short skirts, exposed midriffs. Others complained of unprofessionalism:

"Bad language in open forum by senior management... public humiliation, for example, "you're a wanker" or "shaggable".

Private lives were publicly aired. People were shouted down in public.

Emails were sarcastic and aggressive. Derogatory comments were made about people in their earshot, and not cared about.

There was also a need to control. Some felt they were being constantly watched.

The inquiry was undertaken in confidence - no names were mentioned - and for this reason the report says it is actually "a softer version of the reality of employee relations" at the LSC.

Many of those interviewed still felt unable to speak fully and freely about their concerns.

In a section entitled "People, feelings, personality and behaviour", individual complaints are noted: "Bitterness... disrespectfulness and name calling... favouritism... silent whispers... lack of openness and honesty... bitching... Mickey-taking of specific individuals at meetings...

public reprimands over inappropriate dress (shoes)... Ridiculed in front of external clients... selective 'good mornings'... told off in front of others."

There was unprofessional language: "Get your fucking arse into my office now!"

The following are examples of positive behaviour people wanted to see in meetings, and negative behaviour they found unhelpful.

"No personal attacksabuse... Mind your language!...No texting... No lying... Don't shout... Contribute... No silent side whispers... No passing notes or secret notes... No throwing... No retribution afterwards...

Stomping out (so) no resolution... Smirking... Denigrating body language...

Belittling... Participate."

In a section headed "fears", the report lists people saying that: "Nothing will happen ... Fear will rumble on... Can't change personalities, too entrenched... Put in file 13..."

It also reveals anxiety about the inquiry process: "This group not confidential... Everything will go into a big black hole and come back to haunt us... Won't uncover the truth - picture painted as rosy - when not...

Reprisals... Evil people will again have a disproportionate voice... All this is stopping good work we do... Is this a means to brainwash us into submission?... Me next! " Other complaints include staff being treated in a "shocking way", sometimes like children, and systems and procedures being flouted. Staff said there were double standards: people in the right camp were kept on when they should have gone; those out of favour being shown the door.

Some staff wanted to leave because they perceived they were hated. There were accusations of subterfuge and deceit: appraisal scores for managers were decided before individuals had even been spoken to. People said there was unequal application of disciplinary procedures - motivated by personal agendas. Staff were said to be ostracised and their lives made a misery if they held "different" opinions.

There was also little confidence in the grievance procedure.

But there are hopes: "(We hope that) this reaches someone who can do something - (we) want our cries heard... Good people will make themselves heard... (There will be) better board involvement (at...) operational level.. As a result: true leadership."

Staff told the inquiry they wanted an organisation with a better "atmosphere" where there was "no tiptoeing (around) each other".

And there are good things about the organisation: decent pay, good hours, location, pensions, making a difference to people's lives.

As one employee said: "I want to recapture that feeling when I loved my job. I want to get that feeling back - that's why I stay."

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