Reducing harassment, bullying and incivility in the NHS

It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog post. This article from Sunday’s Guardian has prompted me to put that right.

The NHS holds a special place for many of us. My family and I have had many occasions to be grateful for the care and support we’ve received at all sorts of times of the day and night. I don’t ever take for granted what we have here in the UK.

I’m also under no illusions, just because a service is filled with ‘caring’ professionals doesn’t necessarily lead to workplaces filled with peace, love and understanding. As the Guardian’s article makes all too clear.

The thing is, and the reason I felt moved to write today, in my experience many NHS Trusts are aware they face problems and recognise they have work to do to create productive, healthy, and mutually supportive workplaces. In many instances, they are taking practical steps to close the reality gap between the core values they espouse and the day-to-day experiences of some employees on the ground.

For example, we recently worked with a proactive NHS Trust that wanted us to use our drama-based, experiential approach to work with groups of employees to:

  • Establish a shared understanding of the kind of workplace they (and pretty much everyone in fact) want to work in;
  • Expose the extent of inappropriate and negative behaviours, including acknowledging their own individual shortcomings;
  • Recognise the impact such behaviours have on individuals, working relationships, and ultimately patient care;
  • Achieve clarity on what constitutes bullying behaviour;
  • Signpost where they can go for help and support;
  • Identify what each person can do to establish a more supportive and inclusive environment.

Over the course of 16 3-hour sessions of dramatised content, interactive electronic voting, and honest conversations we worked with over 350 operational employees from one hospital. The sessions were widely well received and valued.

Headline results from the sessions and a follow-up survey 6-8 weeks later included:

  • 98% of delegates on the day said the session helped them understand more what constitutes inappropriate attitudes and behaviours in the workplace;
  • 99% committed to helping create a more supportive and inclusive working environment;
  • 98% found the session worthwhile;
  • 35% of delegates went on in the weeks after the training to have a ‘difficult’ or ‘honest’ conversation in response to a situation or behaviour they thought was undesirable;
  • 83% had done all or some of what they planned during the training; and
  • 98% still felt the training had been worthwhile.

This is just one example of the proactive steps taking place in the NHS and the work we have been doing to help. On its own it won’t fix all the harassment, bullying and incivility that exists but, allied with other initiatives and changes, I believe it can help make a positive difference. As this delegate put it:

“I feel that changes are beginning.  There is still a long way to go.  I think that this course or its content should be part of the annual refresher so that these behaviours come to be automatic.”

As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. If you want to create a more supportive workplace and would like to know more about our work with NHS clients, feel free to contact me.

Resilience: Q&A with Lydia Guthrie

In February 2019, we’re excited to be in London for a joint event on the topic of Resilience with our colleague, Lydia Guthrie, Co-Director of Change Point Ltd. Lydia will be talking about her work in this field, and we’ll be showcasing content from the new experiential, drama-based training programmes we’ve been developing together.

By way of little a ‘taster’ for the event, we caught up with Lydia for a quick Q&A. Hope you enjoy it. And, if you’d like to know more about February’s complimentary (free of charge) event, take a look here.

Hi Lydia, how are you looking forward to our Resilience event in February?

Hi Peter. I’m really looking forward to working with you and the team. I’ve admired Enact’s work for a long time, and it’s great to be joining forces with you for this event.

It’s an important topic. What does Resilience mean to you? And where does ‘bouncebackability’ fit in?

Resilience means a lot to me, and I’ve spent a lot of time researching it, writing about it, and helping teams and organisations to think about it. I first became interested in resilience when I worked in a very challenging environment in the criminal justice system. I was a manager, responsible for a team of people who did very difficult jobs, working with people who had committed serious offences. Each individual staff member showed their stress in different ways. Some talked a lot about their concerns, and approached me with lots of minor problems, whereas others told me they were “fine” but clearly weren’t! I learned that, for my team to perform well and to stay healthy, I needed to tune in to people and support them in ways which suited them.

I then did lots of reading about theories of resilience, including some studies of resilience in different work environments, and found that it’s rarely the actual work which causes long term difficulties for staff – it’s more to do with issues such as how the team functions, and how empowered people feel. I wrote a chapter about resilience in an academic book about the criminal justice system, and I am passionate about working with teams to build a resilient culture.

Bouncebackability is usually referred to as a person’s ability to recover from challenging situations. I like to think of it in a wider way – it’s how organisations support people to prepare for challenges, cope with them, and learn from them, in order to establish a positive culture around resilience.

Are there pitfalls companies need to avoid when seeking to increase Resilience?

Resilience can sometimes be thought of as a quality of an individual person – “Bob is much more resilient than Bill – he never complains and can cope with anything, but Bill’s a bit flaky”. This way of thinking can be appealing in the short run, but it’s much more complex than that. Individual factors do play a part, and we can all learn skills which are linked with increased resilience. And, an individual’s resilience will fluctuate over the course of our life – we all have times when we may struggle a bit with work due to other events in our lives, like bereavements or separations. The main lesson from research is that it’s important not to overlook the importance of organisational culture. Resilience is linked with organisations which seek to empower the workforce, and give them some control over aspects of the working environment. It’s not at all accurate to think of resilience as being just a quality which some individuals have and others don’t.

Resilience is just one of the issues your company, Change Point Ltd, works on. Tell us a bit more about what you do?

I spent 11 years working in the Probation Service, as a front line worker and a manager. Since 2009, I have been Co-Director of Change Point Ltd, with my colleague, Clark Baim. We design and deliver training which focuses on relationships, focusing on themes such as supervision, resilience, attachment theory, motivational interviewing and working with people’s strengths. We work mainly in social care, criminal justice, and health sectors. We also write books, and are passionate about supporting people to continue to develop their skills at work. I also do a lot of supervision of people who work in health and social care environments, and I’m training as a psychotherapist.

We’ve had a great time working with you creating new content. How do you like collaborating with others? We’re not fishing for compliments, honest.

I love collaborating! I’d much rather be working as part of a team than on my own. I love developing ideas with other people, and polishing them until they shine. And it means that I don’t get so lonely! 😊 The Enact team are great to work with, as you bring such experience and creativity to the work.

What do you make of the drama-based, experiential angle we bring to things?

Drama is a great way of helping people to learn. It really helps people to relate theory to their workplace, and to think and feel about how things might work in practice. And it’s fun!

So, what’s next? Obviously, there’s our event in February, but what else? What are you hoping for in 2019?

In 2019, I’m going to be focusing on finishing my systemic psychotherapy training. I’m also going to be delivering more training on attachment theory, and doing more work to support teachers in primary and secondary schools to build their resilience.

Sounds great. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions, Lydia. Have a fabulous Christmas and see you again soon.