Beyond the bullying...
This month, we're delighted to welcome our new guest blogger, Lisa Seagroatt, Managing Director of HR Fit for Purpose. Lisa starts by courageously sharing her story of workplace bullying, and how she found the strength to become an award winning business owner with a passion for creating healthy workplaces.
"I was accustomed to recognising stress and anxiety. I supported members of staff through difficult and stressful periods and had dealt with the occasional bullying accusation as I wouldn’t allow such destructive behaviour to continue if and when it occurred.
The problem with bullying is you don’t always realise you are being bullied. As a child I had been teased and taunted relentlessly for wearing glasses and being ‘podgy’ – I was known as the ‘fat kid with glasses’. As you get older bullying often takes on a somewhat more sinister edge.
I felt that I had a good relationship with a colleague who joined the team and we were working well together. I can’t put my finger on when it changed but I came to realise that over the course of time, I would find myself in meetings, agreeing a course of action with them after which, I would carry out my part of ‘the plan’ only to be criticised as suddenly they ‘weren’t able to remember that we had agreed such a course of action’. This happened time and time again and I found myself checking, double checking and triple checking everything, particularly when I was putting anything in writing.
I ultimately found myself being belittled, patronised and shouted out by this passive aggressive individual. I felt totally and utterly diminished and that’s when my problems with stress and anxiety started to rear their head.
Then they made an enormous mistake which could have resulted in court action - when they were called to task, they immediately slapped in a grievance. This individual had ‘wreaked havoc’ and got away with it, pulling the wool over the eyes of my employers and I felt that my dedication meant nothing anymore; I was absolutely crushed, saddened and depressed.
The physical systems I had started to experience a few months before started to escalate. There were times when I’d get to the car park and find that I was shaking and had to wait sometime before I could get out of the car. When I walked into the building I started to become breathless, my limbs felt paralysed and I felt terrified of the day ahead. My employers, whom I thought, respected me then started to bully me as well. I received the most appalling email which triggered an enormous panic attack resulting in the doctor signing me off. Her words to me were ‘you need to step away from that toxic environment for a while otherwise you will have a breakdown’.
As the bullying continued from a distance, my mental health deteriorated to the point of a breakdown. My confidence was shattered. Never in my life had I experienced mental health issues and I found myself being prescribed drugs a cocktail of drugs ‘topped up’ by counselling. I absolutely didn’t recognise myself. I didn’t take the drugs by the way!
When it became apparent that the individual had pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes, the damage for me was already done. The organisation tried to ‘back-paddle’ as they realised what a mistake they had made. The workplace had turned so unhealthy and toxic I resigned with the intention of taking them to court.
I then watched a once thriving and dynamic organisation die. The majority of staff went on long term sick and resigned, income was lost, patron support was withdrawn and the new regime was ‘totally toxic’ as they acted like a wrecking ball. It was a huge bereavement after so many years with the loss of my workplace family relationships and a working way of life that had been fulfilling.
Bullying in the workplace only results in a toxic workplace culture – this has been borne out in the demise of many businesses. If the workplace culture is poor, staff absence and turnover will be high causing huge disruption and costs to any business.
Once I had regained my strength, I decided I had to use my negative experience in a positive way to help others. I set up my business two years ago to mentor business leaders to look after the mental health and wellbeing of staff which helps to nurture a healthy workplace culture. I’ve developed a people management training programme (OPUS) which trains line managers to be effective people managers who recognise that looking after staff, including their mental health, will result in a healthy workplace culture. It will also reduce business costs due to staff retention and high sickness absence.
And, to my surprise, I am using my knowledge in a lecturing capacity, teaching HR Managers a CIPD Level 5 qualification in HR Management! It’s been an interesting turn of events for me taking that leap into lecturing as one very toxic individual had once said that my approach to HR was ‘too harsh’ yet here I am being asked to use a wealth of knowledge and experience in HR to teach others how to be an effective and fair HR Manager!
I have come a long way in quite a short space of time but it’s not been easy and I still ‘have my moments’; the scars are still there but they are healing and the positive work I’m doing is really helping me to leave such a devastating experience behind. My absolute aim in all of this is to work with any organisations who are passionate about ridding our workplaces of bullying and harassment to help reduce the chances of what happened to me ever happening to someone else again."
Lisa Seagroatt is the Managing Director of HR Fit for Purpose. They help their clients to focus on improving workplace practices around positive people management, helping them to develop their line managers and grow a healthy workplace culture. The aim of a healthy workplace culture is to enable businesses to thrive and grow - good employee engagement leads to low sickness absence, low turnover and high productivity in the workplace.
This is one of a series of articles about the impact of bullying. Nicki Eyre is a Transformational Coach based in Harrogate offering training and coaching support programmes for businesses and individuals. She and her team support businesses to prevent bullying, as well as individuals struggling to cope with bullying, during and after the experience. Nicki is also a speaker on the topic of workplace bullying.
Contact Nicki for a confidential discussion about your experience:
t 07921 264920