More than 200 CQC staff feel they have been bullied or harassed at work

An independent review commissioned by the Care Quality Commission’s leadership found evidence of an “entrenched” bullying culture, leading in extreme cases to employees being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress.

Nine out of 10 Care Quality Commission (CQC) staff taking part in an independent review of the organisation’s culture feel they have been subjected to bullying or harassment in the workplace.

The researchers said they were “overwhelmed” by examples of poor practice and entrenched bullying in the line management structure, including micro-management, excessive monitoring of work and a wide culture of blame.

The review was based on interviews with 236 staff and line managers; of those line managers taking part in the study, 79% said they too had personal experience of being bullied or had observed behaviour they felt was unacceptable.

The review concluded that the manifestations of bullying are systemic and largely the result of the number of reorganisations the CQC has undergone in the past few years, set against the context an increasing workload.

Concerns raised in 2011

David Behan, who was appointed chief executive of the CQC in June 2012, commissioned the review in response to concerns among the senior leadership team about reports of widespread bullying. The reports came to the organisation’s attention in 2011 and were substantiated by a subsequent staff survey, in which 28% of respondents described the culture as bullying.

Behan asked People Opportunities Ltd to undertake the review in December 2012. Over a three-month period, staff were invited to share their experiences with the project lead, Sarah Hunter, in confidence. The sample of 236 staff members was self-selecting and Hunter reviewed only the findings from those conversations.

Key themes to emerge included:

  • Managers spend very little time in the same physical space as their staff. One-to-one meetings are typically focused on supervision tasks, such as the progress of reports, rather than on support.
  • The researchers noted that many people taking part in the review were afraid of the potential repercussions.
  • Everyone interviewed accepted the need for targets, but many complained about how targets were communicated and managed. Stories included being ridiculed in team meetings for working at a slower pace than others. 
  • Interviewees described long periods of stress-related sickness, feeling hurt, threatened, shaking and being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress.

Hunter advised against labelling individuals as “bullies”, recommending instead that the CQC should focus on creating a more productive and supportive working culture.

She suggested that the leadership team should model the desired behaviours and models they would like to see in staff, acknowledge the difficulties they have to contend with, improve their communication and emphasise the importance of good people management practices.

They should also create a notion of shared leadership, involving staff in decisions rather than filtering them down from above.

Other recommendations included reviewing the current supervision and performance management systems and offering training to help people develop the ability to ask coaching questions.

Responding to the report, Behan said: “We are very grateful for the members of staff who came forward to share their experiences. Without their honesty and courage, we would not have been able to identify the improvements that need to be made.
“From reading the report, it is clear that the vast majority of people who work for CQC are passionate about their jobs and that they are dedicated to providing patients and service users with high-quality and safe care.
“We will take lessons from this report into our thinking when making decisions about change and the pace of change needed.”
The CQC’s leadership team shared the report with staff on 22 July and asked them to consider its findings and recommendations.

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