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2 March 2020

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How do I manage accusations of bullying among staff?

Our panel of leading practice managers discuss how to deal with challenging situations. Compiled by Kaye McIntosh

Steve Williams

Bullying in any shape or form is not acceptable, but most of us will experience it at some point. Use this experience to ensure that those who report to you feel confident that you will understand their predicament and deal with the matter sensibly.

Very often bullying occurs privately, but it can also occur publicly. This can make an individual feel intimidated, disrespected, humiliated or simply upset.

Empower the victim to raise the issue when it occurs. If other people are around, let them highlight the comments or behaviour publicly when it happens. If a member of staff is alone with the offender, then tell them that they can leave the office if they feel at all uncomfortable.

Support the member of staff concerned and ask them to record when such incidences occur. Encourage them to be firm with the person upsetting them. Tell them to express their feelings about how the behaviour makes them feel, to be firm but not confrontational.

Bullying often occurs in isolation and continues because it is not challenged. As a practice manager, remind your staff that this will not be tolerated and encourage them to look out for each other and let them be confident in the knowledge that you will always listen.

Bullying becomes harassment when it involves any of the nine protected characteristics under employment law: age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion, belief, sex and sexual orientation. Bullying is not against the law but harassment is. You should follow your staff guidance for the procedures to combat harassment. Cases of harassment could be referred to ACAS

Steve Williams is co-chair of the Practice Management Network

Michelle Barksby

First, make sure that the staff member raising their concerns feels taken seriously and supported. Take time to establish the facts – gather evidence of the events in question. Consider working with the staff member to establish timelines of events, using clinical system message audits, notifications, tasks, emails etc.

Depending on the severity and nature of the accusations, consider meeting with both parties to discuss and work through the issues. The opportunity to air their perspectives with you acting as a mediator may help you all work together towards a professionally respectful agreement. Ensure that you document all discussions and meetings.

Where a face-to-face meeting with both parties is not advisable, due to the nature of the accusation or the volatility of the situation, gather input from them separately. It may be necessary to consider disciplinary action if there is enough evidence.

If evidence to support the accusations is lacking, you should emphasise the need for the practice to be a supportive and inclusive working environment where everyone feels comfortable to come to work. While they do not need to be the best of friends, the team needs to be able to work together to achieve a common purpose and must consider and appreciate each others’ feelings.

Then monitor the situation and plan follow-up discussions with the staff member raising the concerns to ensure that behaviour does not recur or allow future intervention where necessary.

Michelle Barksby is practice manager at Sherwood Medical Partnership, Nottinghamshire

Nick Nurden

It’s a very tricky situation and is one that is very hard to deal with without comprehensive evidence. It is important to hear both sides and to try to adjudicate between them and understand if you think bullying is really taking place or not.

There are times when staff complain about being bullied when they are simply being managed to perform their role. Conversely there are times when people behave in a way that they believe to be acceptable but other people find this behaviour to be bullying.

Issues in people’s lives may make them more sensitive to things that are said than normal or perhaps stress at work may be affecting the way in which they are interacting with their colleagues. If possible, try and gather any objective evidence that you can, but do this sensitively and carefully so as not to fan the flames – avoid asking other colleagues if they think the accused is being a bully.

If formal processes are necessary, you need to make use of them, but this rarely ends up with a good resolution and a happy team, so it is normally better to try to find an informal way forward.

Nick Nurden is business manager at The Ridge practice, West Yorkshire