Case Study: ‘We were treated like naughty schoolchildren’

Judith* had her self-confidence crushed by a serial bully who publicly humiliated her.

The bully was a middle manager who disliked having her decisions questioned and would put down anyone seen to challenge her – unless someone senior to her was present.

“You would be told that your behaviour was unacceptable,” she remembers. “There was a refusal to accept that other people have a lot of experience and might want to do things in a different way.

“We were treated more like naughty school children than professionals. I have seen several capable, confident people reduced to tears. She once shut me in an office and shouted at me. You would also get a lot of finger pointing.

“I got very worn down by it and in the end I could not stand it any more. I was in tears most days. Being put in the position of being in tears in public is humiliating. There was a subtle erosion of spirit and enthusiasm. It wears out your self-esteem and makes you question your competence.”

The bullying was able to flourish in a targetdriven culture, Judith says. “Some people can get a reputation for being anti-management, while the people who get promoted tend to be those who toe the party line.”

Although several senior social workers made representations to higher management, nothing seemed to be done and she dismisses the council’s anti-bullying and harassment policy as “toothless”.
Judith argues that any abuse of power is a threat to good social work. “Social workers have the power to influence something as
fundamental as whether a person keeps their children. So you have to be able to question; to be able to say ‘I can’t take on this piece of work because I’m overloaded’.

“If you wear down the people who have to go out and deal with the most vulnerable children and families, it really does have an effect.”

* not her real name

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