This is my third and last part of my articles on bullying – the aftermath of the controversies and all that happened at my work as an assistant nurse, a visit to the Big Company Headquarter and my depression. My story shows pretty clear that I and my co-workers suffered a terrible agony in our work at the homecare company. Especially me who also were bullied! Now to the causes of all of this, because we know the effects!
“What do we live for; if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?”
(Mary Ann Evans in Middlemarch, 1871)
Why did this happen to me? One of the reasons this were allowed to happen was because the homecare provider I worked for did not have any programmes to avoid bullying and discrimination and further on, there were no apparent attempts to improve the working conditions for the employees. Another problem was that there were no union representatives or safety controller in place, I had to contact them in their office downtown. That was during my last weeks at work in January of 2011. I told the representatives about the bad psychosocial environment on our unit. According to Swedish statutes concerning workplaces, it is recommended that there is a safety controller at workplaces that have more than twenty employees (even though it is not a requirement!) Another reason why this is so important, is that we were working with aid to sick and old people, so it is a matter of security as well. They understood the problems and promised to pay a visit to the unit. The trade union representatives tried really hard to help me when I told them about my situation.
FACING THE BIG COMPANY
Finally, I made an appointment with one of the senior managers of the homecare company that I had worked for so many years. I was invited to their Headquarter in January 2011, because I first had written a letter to make a “date” with them. Once I had arrived on the spot and we could talk undisturbed, she gave me a piece of advice;
– “You should work in the politics to make a change. Because we know how it is out there on the workplaces and we need to reach the politicians,” she said.
I told the manager that I have been working with politics earlier in life, but I had no intentions to start a crusade for this case, besides, I had no energy to that either. I simply wanted to point out for the manager some crucial problems that we experienced at our unit, so I had prepared myself with a whole load of questions. So here are some excerpts from my conversation with the most renowned manager for the Homecare unit. And I started of with following arguments:
We have to start thinking of doing some studies on the time consuming work we do, we must figure out how much our company should charge our cusomer, that is, the municipality of Stockholm, for the work that we do, so that our company can meet the levels of our costs and thus can relieve an already exhausted staff, so that they do not have to get burned out.
In my conversations with the manager I told her that it was the feelings I got from this workplace. Here is a huge problem: We do not work time efficient and cost effective! Lack of time is crucial in this case. This has constantly led our company to take precious time from the elderly people. A method, by the way, frequently advocated by our managers at our unit;
– “Call the elderly and tell him or her that you have no time to make a visit in the afternoon, make a social contact with them by telephone instead.” Or,
– “Merge two visits into one visit to save time!”
I think this is absolutely absurd! That would mean, that someone who is waiting for his lunch at noon, may have to wait until 3pm! In this way, our company charge the municipalities for work that we do not carry out. This is a financial crime, and as such it is a “disloyalty to principal,” that is a legal term. But this is something that has been put in the system by the company.
I continued to explain to the manager that many elderly who use our homecare services, feel that the staff is stressed and therefore the elders become very stressful themselves. I have through the years tried to work calmly and methodically to avoid getting caught up in the stress myself. That has not been easy, because I am suffering from depression and anxiety. I have had to sacrifice every emotion, instincts and self-preservation for this company! Epithets as “dull, slow and inefficient” are invectives I had to get used to, and that did not make it any easier.
The manager for the Homecare units at my company listened to what I had to say. Then she tried to explain the whole situation:
– “Everything gets worse when the municipalities have a difficult economy. Decision makings about aid to elderly and others in need are rewritten and time schedules and efforts are reduced for the old people, without communicating with them. That is a battle that we must take,” she continued. (“At the expense of the staff,” I thought!) But she could not come up with examples of how to solve the problems, so that the employees do not have to be “burned out.”
– “You who are working with the old people, you who visit them in their homes every day, helping them with their daily needs, you feel powerless and frustrated that you can not do anything about the situation. While the management feels the pressure to deliver results, the employee’s wages must be paid out, while the analysts in the municipalities reduce the time for aid to the old people,” she continued. It becomes a vicious cycle.”
Interesting that she admitted that the problem is known, however, she acknowledged that “this becomes a vicious cycle!”
MY THOUGHTS AND CONCLUSIONS SO FAR
Why did all of this occure at my job? Why all this stress? Why was I chosen to be picked on? The reason was, as I mentioned in the beginning of my article series; a difficult and stressful work environment creates both victims and perpetrators! Apparently this is a “normal” condition and a result of CAUSE and EFFECT. Here we have the Cause; a situation was created in the work unit where all employees felt stressed and helpless in an impossible situation.
The situation worsens further by the fact that the bullied person earlier may have distinguished himself in a particular way; gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religious faith, social background, and he may actually show himself to be good at his work, it is even possible that he might like his job! What is happening here is a phenomenon in Sweden called “The Swedish envy!” That is enough to make someone a scapegoat!
All of this may be enough for the other co-workers to become irritated and take out their anger on that person, instead of going to the root of the problems that had arisen on the workplace. There we have the Effect of the causes; we have finally created victims and perpetrators!
No one is born a devil! We are equally the same. We are all inclined to do good or evil! If someone believes that he is doing something good by oppressing another person, he will also have power to do so! As Jane Elliott said in the documentary Blue Eyed; “Discrimination is taught, there is no genetic code for discrimination, people are not born racists.”
No one is born to be a bully or to discriminate against other people either! Originally, I was NOT the problem to begin with. But strangely enough, I eventually became the main problem at the workplace. A proposal for a solution to the problems is that all employees can jointly agree to call for attention to the managers about the problems. This was never done in a constructive way. Even if I had several calm and logical discussions with the managers, most colleagues just mentioned their own problems, with shouts and invectives, about stress, schedules and the lack of time to do their work, and they did not considered that we all had the same problems. Because of that, the managers did not take them seriously. The gist of all of this shows that the discontent which should have been addressed to the managers in the worksplace, instead was directed against an innocent victim, that will say, to me!
And this is a “vicious cycle!” What do managers, directors and politicians think about their own future as they get older? Would they allow themselves to be treated the same way old people and workers in these companies are treated today? One day they will also be old, in need of healthcare from a stressed and overworked staff. It is my belief that we must ensure safety and health for employees as well as for old and sick people in society.
We have ended up in a society where directors and companies within healthcare earn big money to put in their own pockets, but on the the expense of the staff and patients! That is where labour organizations can keep an eye on these organizations and companies, report to authorities to promote safety and a decent work situation without bullying and discrimination, watching for obvious dangers at the workplace, because the healthcare companies and their managers have no control over the situation. Controls over the working conditions were not done at my unit. These are phenomena studied by investigative journalists and researchers in Sweden. And finally, the politics concerning care of old and sick people must be changed to be more emphatic with an emphasis on all human beings equal value. It is wrong if it is money that controls the business!
AFTERMATH AND MY DEPRESSION
In January 2011, the trade union tried to help me with the redress from the company but also to look for possibilities to get compensation from the Social Insurance Agency that did not approve my sick leave, after I had my first breakdown in 2009. Due to a misunderstanding between the insurance agency and the doctor I went to back in 2009, I got no compensation for the month I went on sick leave. It was a pretty hard time for me.The manager on my unit did not do anything, and the insurance agency could not do anything as they needed new medical documents from the doctor. The problem was that the doctor had finished his service and my medical records were incomplete, actually, it was a total mess when I read a copy of it! There was nothing to go on and everything fizzled out. I could of course have seen another doctor. Well, I did, many times, but I did not get ONE and the same doctor. And my medical records that the doctors wrote were not sufficient. Here in Sweden they say that there is a “House Doctor”-system, that will say, all people will have their “own” doctor. I do not believe that! Between the years 2009 and 2012 I have asked for a house doctor all the time and I must have seen at least 30 different doctors during that time! Most of them were non-proffesionals, they may have been good at checking your blood pressure, but not making psychiatric diagnoses!
No psychologists and no psychiatrists in sight, but I have seen a whole lot of nurses too, but they can not help me! Would you take your Lexus to Johnny’s Workshop back o’Bourke for a service?
I would not think so! So, I do not want to see a doctor or a nurse that can not help me!
This story is not finished yet, as I have several contacts to do until I have met the right doctor or psychiatrist, even though I have a diagnosis, I still suffer from this severe depression and anxiety attacks.
A funny moment
Earlier this year I told my brother that I was seeing a nurse for my problems. I was sad because I was not satisfied with a nurse doing my prescription and even diagnose! When my brother heard that, he freaked out like a fruitloop;
– “A nurse can NOT prescribe medicine and diagnose, at most he can JUST take a blood sample and put on a patch!” That is my brother!
That’s all Folks! This was a personal testimony about the working conditions at an ordinary Swedish workplace and my struggles. Very strange things are going on, indeed, so I should not be surprised whatever comes out of this! Now let me finish with some medical texts. Maybe I will later on return to this topic on Depression as it is a major health problem!
VICTIMIZATION AT WORK – SWEDISH STUDIES
“Serious consequences of victimization can become apparent, for example, in the following ways:
Among individual employees:
– Increasing friction in the form of aversion, irritability or pronounced indifference. Deliberate breaking of rules or exaggerated adherence to rules, reduced performance.
– High stress level, low stress tolerance with over-reactions, sometimes traumatic crisis experience.
– Physical illness, substance abuse problems or mental reactions, e.g. sleep disturbances, loss of self-confidence, anxiety, depression or manic symptoms, sometimes powerful aggression and severe tiredness.
– Inability to look ahead or unreasonable demands for vindication.
– Thoughts of suicide or violence to oneself.
If the victimization does not cease immediately (and if the basic problems of the workplace are not investigated and dealt with), there is a risk of the symptoms becoming permanent in a chronic state which can require prolonged medical and psychological expert help.”
[Source: Ordinance AFS 1993:17, Swedish Work Environment Authority, Arbetsmiljöverket]
POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD)
Pay a special attention to the last paragraph on causes and effects. My problem in a nutshell!
“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychiatric condition associated with someone exposed to extraordinary traumatic experiences, such as war, torture, natural disaster, accidents or rape – but other life-threatening events can cause PTSD.
The typical symptoms are intrusive memories of the incident and that the person pulls away from others and is irritable. The memories may come when awake or nightmares or feelings of being back to the traumatic situation, so called flashbacks.
Between 20 and 40 percent of the [Swedish] population is currently estimated to suffer from mental illness – from serious pathological conditions, such as psychoses, to less severe mental health problems, such as agitation, anxiety and sleep problems. Of these, 10-15 percent have serious problems that may require psychiatric treatment.
The last ten years sick leave rates in Sweden have increased dramatically, more among women than men. There has been talk of a special form of stress that is both related to profession and linked to occupations that involves a lot of contact with and responsibility for other people, such as health and social care professions or being a manager in middle position.
Characteristic is also that these professions are in workplaces that have undergone extensive or several reorganizations, often as a result of financial cuts. In the debate, the term “burned out” has become the name to this phenomenon.”
[Source: Public Health Report 2005, The National Board of Health and Welfare, Socialstyrelsen]
No wonder that people who have suffered through hell on their workplaces are exhibiting the same symptoms as victims of war!
© 2012 Jonathan Axelsson
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