10 September 2009

All that glitters ...

Much of the evidence in support of the cautionary message on this blog is taken straight from HR & Diversity Management's web sites. An objective conclusion one draws from it is that some of the people who call the National Bullying Helpline and recommend HR&DM's investigation services to their employer will be deemed by HR&DM's investigator to have a vexatious grievance and/or to be "the bully". The main parts of the evidence are the invitation to request the investigation, and the claimed results of the investigations, quoted on different web sites:
"Would you rather have an independent investigator look into your grievance or appeal - or a manager at work? If you want to request an independent, impartial, investigation - call us."
- source: National Bullying Helpline website

"During 2006 32% of the complaints investigated by HR&DM were found to be vexatious." 

- source: HR & Diversity Management website

"During 2006 25% of cases found that the instigator, the alleged victim, was in fact, the bully."

The consequences of such an outcome are largely identical to what happens when an employee is bullied by a serial bully boss: Rejected grievance; potential or actual disciplinary dismissal; increased stress & prolongation of stress related illness; increased sickness absence; loss of reputation; difficulty obtaining satisfactory reference and thus new employment; career damage; loss of income, inability to pay mortgage / rent; legal action against employer and so on. What is more, these consequences are foreseeable by anyone with an understanding of workplace bullying.

Even in isolation, one of these effects is, for most people, a once in a lifetime catastrophe. No-one would knowingly invoke a process that subjected them to the risk of one or more of these things happening. In all probability, people call the National Bullying Helpline is because they want the very opposite, i.e. they want a remedy. The only remedy many bullied employees seek is simply for the bullying to stop, so they can get on with their jobs.

No doubt there are employees with grievances about bullying who are concerned they will not be treated  fairly by their employers, for whom the idea of an independent, impartial, fair and expert investigator is very appealing, for the obvious reason that they hope the bullying will stop once their grievance is upheld. No doubt, people in this position are moved by the National Bullying Helpline's promotion of its expertise at investigations, coupled with its apparent anti-bullying stance.

Why would people take the risk?

What is not obvious to such people is the possibility that a National Bullying Helpline investigation will find wholly against the person who asks for it. There are several possible explanations as to why this does not occur to them, but two that spring to mind are (a) the helpline operator's credibility, evident through it's apparent anti-bullying stance, big name endorsements and charitable status, and (b) the caller's sincere conviction that they are being bullied. This personal conviction and trust and confidence that the helpline operator will recognise this leads people, especially in a distressed and desperate state of mind, to envisage that the investigation will certainly go in their favour.

What the NBH is happy to tell potential clients

Callers' trust and confidence in the National Bullying Helpline is inspired by claims on its web site. On its home page, the NBH claims to be:
"...the only Charity in the UK specialising in bullying at work issues as well as bullying in the community, the home and in the playground... In particular we address Bullying at Work, Investigations, Redundancy, Bullying & Harassment Investigations and discrimination of all sorts."
A pervasive claim is that the National Bullying Helpline can help, (as its name implies) with the expression "we can help" occurring at least nine times on the website.

The employees' page appeals to readers who think they are stressed and being treated  badly at work, asking:  "IS YOUR STRESS DUE TO BULLYING AT WORK ?"  The page goes on to list common problems suffered by bullied employees, suggesting: "you really should call us"; "Disciplined for raising a grievance? Call us today"; "Would you rather have an independent investigator look into your grievance or appeal - or a manager at work? If you want to request an independent, impartial, investigation - call us."; etc.

The page title in the browser is "Help for employees who are being bullied". In other words, this page is definitely intended to encourage people to call the helpline if they need help.

Further reassurance is provided through implied alignment of the NBH's ethos with those of well-known characters from the world of work related stress and workplace bullying:
  • - Professor Cary Cooper is a well known and respected workplace psychology expert. Prof Cooper's name appears at the top of the list under the heading "the Team" and at the foot of each page, where he's identified as the patron of the National Bullying Helpline;
  • - There is mention in articles of names of workplace bullying pioneers Andrea Adams and Tim Field;
  • - There is a strongly implied message that the helpline concept was jointly conceived with Tim Field: "When Tim found out he had only a few weeks to live, he spent time with Christine and David at their home in Swindon, discussing his work and his legacy. During this period the concept of the National Bullying Helpline Charity was conceived. A promise was made to Tim - to merge Tim's bully advice-line and Christine's workplace bullying helpline, to form a National Charity and to invite Tim's children to become Trustees when they come of age."
  • - There's a photo of the Field family with Christine Pratt at the bottom of one page, referring to the high profile launch at Westminster.
  • - The organisation is clearly a registered charity with a published set of activities that are precisely what a bullying helpline should be doing, i.e:"The preservation and protection of good health of those affected by bullying in the workplace and other environments, throught the provision of a helpline service, counselling, advice, mediation, education and training in the prevention of bullying and such activities considered to be bullying".  

All these elements quickly engender the trust of total strangers, including people with an anti bullying stance, and especially those who have minimal or newly acquired understanding of stress and workplace bullying as a result of personal experience.

What the NBH web site does not openly tell potential clients:
  • - Whereas the National Bullying Helpline website claims that the bullying and harassment investigations are something addressed by the charity, they are in fact undertaken by HR&Diversity Management Ltd. The latter is not a charity, and since April 2007, by virtue of the introduction of the Claims Management Regulations 2006, the company has not been permitted to sell advice to individuals about potential employment claims and related matters. (These regulations are applied nationally and HR&DM has simply not obtained the authorisation necessary to deal directly with individuals. Law firms, Trade Unions, not for profit advice services and Charities are exempt from the regulations.) Where a caller agrees to or asks for an "independent investigation",  HR&DM undertakes the work on contract to the caller's employer, under which it acts for the employer and not the employee.
  • - By virtue of the statements quoted at the beginning of this article, there is a distinct possibility that a person who sincerely believes they are being bullied at work calls the helpline, promotes HR&DM's services to their employer, and at the end of the investigation will be deemed to be a  bully, with a vexatious grievance. In a case where HR&DM founder Christine Pratt did just that to her helpline client, the right of appeal offered was to "another member of HR & Diversity Management Ltd". In the same case, while Mrs Pratt advises that employees keep a diary of the bullying, in relation to her helpline client she deemed that it was "a gross misconduct matter".
  • - Prof Cooper, knowing more than most about the causes and effects of stress at work, endorses the concept of a charitable bullying helpline and for just this reason he allowed the National Bullying Helpline to name him as their Patron. The NBH website has his name at the top of the list under the heading "The Team", but he not only does not head up the charity, he claims to have no connection at all with its management or operations.
  • - Andrea Adams and Tim Field were pioneer anti-bullying campaigners. Through their books and other works they gave unconditional and essential help to countless thousands of people. The NBH's claim to be working "in memory" of these people is made without the endorsement of those who maintain their respective legacies: The Andrea Adams Trust website and Tim Field's bullyonline website both state that they are not connected with and do not endorse the National Bullying Helpline.
  • - Tim Field's own workplace bullying advice line led to freely available groundbreaking insights and resources, derived from researching the 9000+ calls he handled himself. By contrast, the National Bullying Helpline website has a form for employees to request a "free step by step guide", in return for their name, the name of their employer and an e-mail address. The guide (our copy was written in  2006 and issued in 2007) is 1237 words, 252 of which recommend the perceived benefits of an "Independent Investigation" by HR&DM.
  • - The Pratts' arrangements for involving Tim's widow and under-age children in the National Bullying Helpline were concluded within 10 months of his death. The Field family were never involved in the operations of the National Bullying Helpline, and since 2008, when Mrs Field resigned as a trustee, have had no involvement at all. 
Notwithstanding the website's long lists of "organisations we have worked with" and its impressive PR campaigning and big name concept endorsements, the NBH publishes little or no information about what it actually does or has done to help employees. Save for the claims that 32% of grievances investigated by HR&DM in 2006 were vexatious, and in 25% of cases the person who instigated the investigation "was, in fact, the bully", there are no statistics, no trends and no free advice apart from "we can help - call us today". Testimonials relating to good jobs done are predominantly from employers. The website includes one testimonial from a person who saw Mrs Pratt on TV and who, like Prof Cooper, obviously thinks a bullying helpline is a good idea.

In summary, the National Bullying Helpline web site discloses claims capable of convincing members of the public, needing help with employment relations issues, to contact the helpline operator in the belief that it will be beneficial to do so. However, notwithstanding the web site's claim that the helpline's processes are "open and transparent", the NBH does not spell out risks such as those outlined at the beginning of this article.

1 comment:

  1. Can't see a link between someone reporting bullying at work vexaciously, and that being bullying on the part of the same.

    The former is fraud, while the latter is an exercise of power. Now forgive me if I am wrong here, but the employer, presumably armed with a biased bullying expert and the cash to sue the pants off the faigning target has more power than any individual employee, because a court will simply not support the case. All the power is with the employer therefore. It's like saying Samson was bullying Goliath. Conclusion, HR&DM are just what the employer needs when it can't be bothered to employ HR people to execute the target.


Use this form to add a comment or to contact the author. Comments are not published automatically.