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?”
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