29th May 2013
Here’s a link to a section of The Guardian online. This is the weekly live Q&A “open” forum discussion – on a subject of interest to Local Government employees:
This is usually a forum for experts in the field, and anybody else who’s interested and registered, to debate and discuss a given topic. This week, it was the subject of ‘Managing Stress in Local Government Jobs’. This is workplace stress – as suffered in increasing amounts – by local government employees UK wide, at all levels: Chief Executives and directors have personal obligations under the Health & Safety Executive for reducing stress in the workforce; whereas middle managers; social workers; teachers; administrative staff, manual workers, etc. have a different role to fulfil, that of lining up as sitting targets.
I know about stress. In fact, I know a lot about stress, having suffered it to an intense, practically intolerable degree, whilst being deliberately put through the wringer for two long years by my last employer, Cheshire West & Chester Council (formerly Cheshire County Council). My directors, although they had a stated legal responsibility for reducing stress, only succeeded in leveraging it up. The outcome was that I was targeted and unjustly forced from my livelihood after lodging an internal complaint.
And look who was contributing to the Q&A session today… none other than Sam Brousas, Head of Human Resources at Cheshire West & Chester Council.
One of Sam’s posts (12:25 pm) went as follows:
@stressor. Totally agree that quality of leadership is key in managing a workforce through stressful times. We’ve recognised this at Cheshire West and Chester and have invested heavily in improving the quality of leaderhip (sic) development and support over the past 12 months, particularly the middle management tier (the ‘squeezed’ middle).
This post was in response to Lancaster University’s Professor Cary Cooper (@stressor), well-known expert in the field of workplace stress and one time close collaborator with the infamous and very dubious Christine Pratt.
Workplace bullying is a well-known factor and a common cause of stress in the public sector (although not so prevalent in the private sector), as specified during this Q&A session by Professor Cooper himself. I responded to Sam Brousas’ post as follows:
This was dissent, and criticism writ large. Not libel. Not a personal attack, and therefore not anything that breached any rules …but the moderator cried “foul” and removed my post. Why, I’m still not sure – because the post was truthful in content and much evidence exists to back it up …all over the internet.
It’s clearly stated within the Guardian’s Community Standards and Participation Guidelines (scroll down) that ‘dissent’ is allowed. I am disagreeing with the Sam Brousas party line because from where I’m standing, given my experience, her credibility is stretched to breaking point. To put forward the idea that this dysfunctional council has made great leaps forward in such a short period of time (12 months) indicates either dishonesty or delusions on the part of the contributor organisation.
CWaC’s Senior Management and Human Resources’ performance was nothing less than atrocious, over an extended period of time, to the extent that the Director I dealt with had no awareness whatsoever of his legal responsibilities towards staff as regards stress, under the Health & Safety at Work Act. In fact, whilst ‘dealing with’ my complaint, his every decision ratcheted up the levels of stress that I and my family were forced to endure. My treatment was particularly cruel because I was corporately bullied and treated as a troublemaker – singled out in the “classic” almost traditional, reactionary manner. My stress / anxiety-related illness was even quoted by this director as a contributory factor to not gaining resolution and to ‘exacerbating the situation.’
Next from Sam was another completely disingenuous piece of offensive uber-drivel:
We offer a range of support to staff to help them to deal with stress, whether work related or not.
However for me the real issue is to tackle the causes of stress. Staff can feel a lack of control during periods of change. They need to feel that they have a say in their own destiny. Often it can feel as if things are ‘being done to them’.
Senior managers sometimes won’t seek or take the help offered to support them through stressful periods as they fear this will be interpreted as weakness. Similarly some very senior managers don’t seek help as they believe they won’t receive a sympathetic hearing as they are highly paid and it’s their job, after all!
This is not very insightful of Ms Brousas. Very senior managers have heavy obligations laid down by the Health & Safety Executive. To tackle stress in the workplace, they need to be made to abide by them. Ms Brousas’ phraseology is interesting regarding staff: things are ‘being done to them’. I say this because things were certainly done to me, after I’d plucked up the courage to raise my head and make a complaint:
- I was not believed
- I was targetted in response
- I was treated as a ‘troublemaker’
- The crooked staff / middle managers I complained about were granted protection
- The HR Department backed their management colleagues against me from day one, and offered nothing whatsoever to me by way of support
- One of the directors I dealt with, rather than adhering to HSE guidelines, accused me of sending a ‘torrent’ of information – most likely because in his desperation, he could not find anything else to pin on me
- Although the council’s external investigations procedure demanded impartiality, the commissioned external investigator was not “independent” as stated, and held an undeclared municipal position himself in the Cheshire East area (this was before the county council was split up), which served to conceal any prior connections and undeclared affiliations to the County Council
- Out of the blue, as if designed to ratchet up the intense stress I and my family were under, a range of trumped up “Gross Misconduct” disciplinary charges were levelled against me, in response to my original good faith complaint
- I was forced out of my job at the final hearing, effectively for having the temerity to complain – and separated from my livelihood. They say “don’t shoot the messenger”, but in this case, the bringer of bad news was given both barrels
Back to the live Q&A session, I made one post at 12:57 pm, not in response to anybody in particular, but just to sum up my situation:
Although again it is clearly dissent / criticism and not a direct personal insult, I believe the most contentious remark here is the final paragraph; the idea that people like the esteemed Professor Cooper are busy making money from foisting stress-themed DVDs onto an ever more out of touch with reality public sector (keen to pay out ever greater sums of public money for off the shelf “solutions”, but ignorant about their legal obligations to employee wellbeing, as they cynically blame the individual, operate under protest, and fulfil an ever-shrinking amount of genuine work to remedy the situation.)
The truth of this situation hit home with me at the height of my stress, when I paid a visit to the Occupational Health Clinic in Chester and was plonked in a chair, on my own, in a tiny, windowless room, in front of a TV set. An impatient nurse, obviously with better things to do, located the Cary Cooper DVD, fired up the equipment and left. Ten minutes in, after watching him pontificate about “my problem” whilst keenly aware that the bastards had spent over 18 months deliberately putting me through hell, I was on the brink. Soon, I was frantically searching for a half brick ……..to hurl into the face of the jolly, bespectacled academic, wittering on about his bespoke “stress solutions”.
Sat there slumped, and feeling completely and absolutely affronted, I then pondered how Professor Cooper did not look one iota stressed and, watching his lips working relentlessly in pursuit of his pay day, I imagined the proceeds; the countless, carved out public sector £considerations, accumulating in a great mountain of dosh, an ever healthier, ever wealthier, ever stealthier, bloody big bastard of a bulging bank balance.
This could be Big Money. Big public Money. Or maybe, just maybe people like the Professor give all their money to charity and I’ve got it all wrong?
In my despair, one thought popped into my mind ….and kept repeating itself over and over:
“Where oh where has this all gone wrong?”
Community standards and participation guidelines
10 guidelines which we expect all participants in the Guardian’s community areas to abide by.
This document covers all aspects of community interaction and moderation on the Guardian website, including comments on blogs or articles.
The Guardian website provides a growing number of opportunities for readers who wish to discuss content we publish, or debate issues more generally. Our aim is to ensure this platform is inclusive and safe, and that the Guardian website is the place on the net where you will always find lively, entertaining and, above all, intelligent discussions.
There are 10 simple guidelines which we expect all participants in the community areas of the Guardian website to abide by, all of which directly inform our approach to community moderation (detailed below). These apply across the site, while moderation decisions are also informed by the context in which comments are made.
1. We welcome debate and dissent, but personal attacks (on authors, other users or any individual), persistent trolling and mindless abuse will not be tolerated. The key to maintaining the Guardian website as an inviting space is to focus on intelligent discussion of topics.
2. We acknowledge criticism of the articles we publish, but will not allow misrepresentation of the Guardian and our journalists to be published on our website. For the sake of robust debate, we will distinguish between constructive, focused argument and smear tactics.
3. We understand that people often feel strongly about issues debated on the site, but we will consider removing any content that others might find extremely offensive or threatening. Please respect other people’s views and beliefs and consider your impact on others when making your contribution.
4. We reserve the right to redirect or curtail conversations which descend into flame-wars based on ingrained partisanship or generalisations. We don’t want to stop people discussing topics they are enthusiastic about, but we do ask users to find ways of sharing their views that do not feel divisive, threatening or toxic to others.
5. We will not tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia or other forms of hate-speech, or contributions that could be interpreted as such. We recognise the difference between criticising a particular government, organisation, community or belief and attacking people on the basis of their race, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age.
6. We will remove any content that may put us in legal jeopardy, such as potentially libellous or defamatory postings, or material posted in potential breach of copyright.
7. We will remove any posts that are obviously commercial or otherwise spam-like. Our aim is that this site should provide a space for people to interact with our content and each other, and we actively discourage commercial entities passing themselves off as individuals, in order to post advertising material or links. This may also apply to people or organisations who frequently post propaganda or external links without adding substantively to the quality of the discussion on the Guardian website.
8. Keep it relevant. We know that some conversations can be wide-ranging, but if you post something which is unrelated to the original topic (“off-topic”) then it may be removed, in order to keep the thread on track. This also applies to queries or comments about moderation, which should not be posted as comments.
9. Be aware that you may be misunderstood, so try to be clear about what you are saying, and expect that people may understand your contribution differently than you intended. Remember that text isn’t always a great medium for conversation: tone of voice (sarcasm, humour and so on) doesn’t always come across when using words on a screen. You can help to keep the Guardian community areas open to all viewpoints by maintaining a reasonable tone, even in unreasonable circumstances.
10. The platform is ours, but the conversation belongs to everybody. We want this to be a welcoming space for intelligent discussion, and we expect participants to help us achieve this by notifying us of potential problems and helping each other to keep conversations inviting and appropriate. If you spot something problematic in community interaction areas, please report it. When we all take responsibility for maintaining an appropriate and constructive environment, the debate itself is improved and everyone benefits.
– If you act with maturity and consideration for other users, you should have no problems.
– Don’t be unpleasant. Demonstrate and share the intelligence, wisdom and humour we know you possess.
– Take some responsibility for the quality of the conversations in which you’re participating. Help make this an intelligent place for discussion and it will be.
There is a comprehensive list of frequently asked questions about participation and community moderation, which also provides more detail about particular examples of the standards listed above.
Participants who seriously, persistently or wilfully ignore the community standards, participation guidelines or terms and conditions will have their posting privileges for all the Guardian community areas withdrawn.
This is not an action that we take lightly or arbitrarily. However, we are aiming to create and maintain an online experience consistent with Guardian values, and we reserve the right to make decisions which we feel support that. Please be aware that moderators may contact you by email in relation to your participation, especially where an issue comes up in relation to these community standards. Any advice they give/request they make should be adhered to, as our moderators are employed to enforce these community standards and create a constructive environment for everyone who contributes to our site.
We will, when necessary, remove user postings or comments from our articles, and blog posts. *
If a contribution to the Guardian website is perceived as breaching the community guidelines set out above, then it will be removed by the community team, in the interests of keeping community areas of the site appropriate for the vast majority of the people who visit.
(*NB: We will not edit user posts to change the meaning, spelling, or anything else intended by the user. Even if only part of a comment or posting is perceived as breaching the community guidelines, the whole thing may be removed. Also, when a comment or post is removed for any of the reasons above, it is sometimes necessary to delete subsequent messages which refer to explicitly or quote from the original (removed) comment, in order to preserve some notion of conversational thread. This may also happen because a later comment quotes directly the problematic bits of the original comment, which just perpetuates the problem. In such cases not every deletion will be marked individually.)
We reserve the right to take steps or implement measures which we hope will benefit the whole community of the Guardian community participants.
Because we are ultimately responsible for everything which appears on this site, all actions and decisions taken by our moderators are final. Unfortunately, the huge (and growing) quantity of user content on the Guardian website means that we can’t enter into correspondence regarding specific moderation activity, although all correspondence will be read.
If you have suggestions or questions about any aspect of community participation on the Guardian website, you can write to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com (for moderation on Opinion articles specifically).
Please mark all queries clearly in the subject line (e.g. Question about moderation decision on Books blog)
For queries about your user account, you should contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Note about community content
The views expressed in community areas of this site do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of GNM, its staff or contributors.
About this document
This policy is a collaborative document, created by representatives of GNM editorial including the Head of Communities, moderators and editors, together with the Readers Editor and incorporating feedback from users and content creators across the site.
It has evolved over many years of community participation on the Guardian website, and aims to reflect best practice in community management as well as GNM’s editorial values.
It is regularly reviewed and refreshed, so please bookmark this page and check back frequently.
Further information and resources
There is an extensive list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) about community participation which we hope will answer any questions you have about interaction functionality and moderation process.
Additional questions can be sent to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org (for moderation on Opinion articles specifically).
Please remember that by registering for the Guardian website you have also agreed to our terms of service.