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Important conversations: Let’s talk about bullying

In our most recent webinar, Creating safe workplaces: Important conversations about bullying, we heard from guest speaker Jonathan Wilson. An ambassador for Stop Hurt at Work and an advocate for safer workplace culture, Jonathan worked in the Metropolitan Police for 24 years before retiring in 2020 due to a traumatic experience of workplace bullying.

 

Jonathan’s mission is clear: to educate people on the harmful effects of bullying, and to empower people to create respectful and supportive work environments, where everyone can thrive and grow. He is proof that bullying can happen to anyone in the workplace, regardless of reputation or seniority.

I spent 24 years as a Police Officer in London and I’d risen to quite a high rank,” Jonathan shares. “I was a Detective Superintendent, and at the time of being bullied had been for a couple of years.”

Posted into the Counter-Terrorism Command, Jonathan quickly saw that there was a lot of government oversight and pressure in his new role. “Up until that point, I considered myself really resilient,” he says. “I’d seen and experienced some of the worst things that life could throw at anyone.”

 

Bullying can happen to anyone in the workplace, regardless of reputation or seniority.

 

Jonathan noticed a strong culture of nepotism in the Counter Terrorism Command. It was a tight-knit group of people who appeared to look after each other’s interests to the cost of others.

“How did you get this role? We already had our own person lined up for this.” These are the first words Jonathan heard from his line manager. But he got on with his job, doing his best to implement positive change within his team. At every turn, line managers isolated him; withholding information from him and even removing resources without notification.

One day Jonathan was called to an ambush meeting – a meeting with no prior notification or agenda – in which he was informed that two people within his team had complained about him and were thinking of leaving the command. “I was absolutely horrified,” recalls Jonathan. “I always felt I had a good working relationship with my team. I felt I encouraged and empowered people, so I asked where this information came from so I could put it right. They said the people wished to be anonymous, and gave me no further context.”

 

Jonathan was told repeatedly that people were upset with him, but he was never given context or names.

 

The next few months involved more and more ambush meetings for Jonathan. He was told repeatedly that people were upset with him, but he was never given context or names so he could address any issue. He was even informed he had upset partnership agencies – people who, in this instance, Jonathan knew for certain he couldn’t have upset, because he was good friends with one of these colleagues who confirmed no complaint had ever been made.

Jonathan was experiencing ‘gaslighting’; when a person or organisation tries to distort your perception of reality to manipulate and control you. The result was devastating for his mental health. He became hypersensitive in his work environment, was experiencing insomnia and constant rumination, and he didn’t trust the conversations he had with people anymore.

In a final meeting, Jonathan was told that he had to leave his role, on account of upsetting partnership agencies. Outraged by his unfair treatment, Jonathan emailed the most senior officers in the MET. A week later, he met with a senior officer who appeared to have spoken to the bullies before him.

 

Jonathan was experiencing gaslighting. The result was devastating for his mental health.

 

Jonathan told her about his experience. “She looked at me with cold contempt and said, ‘that’s your view’,” he says. He was informed that, from everything this officer had heard, he was the problem. “I entered that meeting a broken man,” he reflects. “I left that meeting absolutely destroyed.”

Jonathan now knew all too well what it feels like to be the victim of institutional betrayal. His bullies were being protected, and for the sake of his mental health, he decided to leave his role two years earlier than planned, at a personal financial cost.

Jonathan was able to put his health first, but he is aware some people simply won’t have this option. After going through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and being diagnosed with trauma by a psychiatrist, Jonathan has decided to dedicate his time to speaking out against bullying and its damaging effects on individuals and organisations.

“Until I’d been through it, I didn’t realise how devastating it could be,” he shares. “If, as an organisation, you have a person who’s hard working and productive, and you allow them to be bullied, the consequence is that you will face sick leave, a change in productivity, and you may lose good people.”

 

To hear Jonathan’s story, and for practical advice on how to reach out for help if you are the victim of workplace bullying, or if you see it happen, you can watch our webinar here.

You can learn more about Jonathan’s work at Stop Hurt at Work here, and contact our team if you are needing support here.

 

As with all our valued guest speakers, their opinions and experiences are their own, and not necessarily those of Foothold. We believe it’s important to share real stories and give a platform to people with lived experience of the subject matter we’re focussing on in our webinars.

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