Category Archives: Toxic Work Places

Interview with Alan Shawcroft about his experience at SECURITAS – Addendum – second interview on 15th Jan 2021

Background

Working with Alan Shawcroft, we carried out a second interview this week because we were concerned that SECURITAS were being unfairly highlighted as responsible for a number of incidents of bullying directed towards him. In truth Alan worked in Security for a number of companies at AB Inbev commencing with VINCI in 2011 and then Mitie, in 2014. (Mitie were one of Britains Top Employers in 2020). He says the TUPE Process was used to switch the contracts of everyone involved to one inferior to the one they enjoyed with VINCI. He was transferred again under the TUPE process to SECURITAS in March 2019. Throughout he worked primarily as a supervisor on client sites belonging to AB Inbev. The incidents he relates to his eventual dismissal he attributes to the aggressive behaviour of the AB Inbev Contract manager toward him and others. Alan says that she delivered the final act towards his dismissal while he was employed by SECURITAS. Alan believes that opportunities to prevent his dismissal were missed by managers at SECURITAS.

Summary

In summary, at the end of this second interview we had further identified some of the toxic behaviours towards him that led to his injury. The aggressive management style of the manager in question was well known in the company and people avoided working for her if they could. As the contract manager she actively pursued Alan’s dismissal by bullying him throughout his employment. She followed through to the final act as the contract changed in 2019 while he was in hospital.

(For the purpose of these notes the following the sub heading names the toxic workplace behaviour and puts it into the context of incidents Alan describes. Where necessary the behaviour is further validated by the experience of others).

Exploitation and Victimisation

In April 2014 colleagues began to notice discrepancies in their pay. “Holiday pay incorrect, overtime incorrect etc. In fact during the time they had the contract from April 2014 to March 2019, Mitie would still on a regular basis, pay overtime incorrectly, eventually the guys stopped doing overtime, which caused more problems”. Alan says he continuously challenged this, not just for himself but colleagues. On this point he agrees it could have led in some part to his victimisation as he thinks the workforce was being exploited.

NB. One of the key characteristics of military leadership is that of standing up for people in your team and challenging bad behaviour. Dixon said in his experieince, this would almost certainly put Alan at odds with toxic management and make him a target for victimisation.

Information Withholding\Goal Blocking

While Alan was responsible for managing a guard shift rota, (one of his goals) AB Inbev management made it difficult for him by interfering with the conduct of his duties to the point he could no longer perform the task. For example Alan would rota staff only to find they had been granted leave. He would only find out about the leave at the time the guards didn’t show up for their shift. The information he needed to do his job had been withheld.

(Moreover, more recently he says that his subject access requests are currently being delayed as he seeks information about his dismissal.)

Withholding Resources

He says he worked with less than the established numbers of guards for long periods of time because management refused to allow him to make up the numbers.

Also he was criticised for “allowing” lorries to park on a public highway outside of his workplace, something that was way above his control and pay grade to resolve.

Demeaning, Mocking and Public Humiliation

Alan said that his suppervisor regularly demeaned and mocked him in front of colleagues. This caused him to be openly mocked by subordinates and colleagues. Abusive incidents he experienced with his supervisor happened in his primary worplace where he was surrounded by colleagues he was responsible for, and also using the company email system.

Dixon explained that cyber bullying using company email systems is quite common and now acknowledged as a technique used by workplace bullies. In his experieince, Demeaning, mocking or humiliating emails are sent to the victim and carbon copied to his or her colleagues. The victim is often obliged by policy to respond, adding to the pressure in his work role. Personnel today carried this article by David Webb during anti-bullying week in 2017.

Demeaning a colleague in the workplace is little understood, but is designed to subjugate victims. It encourages colleagues to further criticise the victim. “Man up” and “Put up\Shut Up” are common taunts used to justify the behaviour.

Alan’s military mindset would instantly be impacted by demeaning because the most basic military leadership courses contain the simple rule never to “bollock” (Chastise or Punish) an NCO in front of his or her men.

Taking away Work

Eventually the work of doing the rota was removed from his portfolio. Rather than give him full responsibility and support him in the role, it was more important to his supervisor that Alan was seen to be incompetent and humiliated.

Withholding Support

During his time with MITIE Alan reported several cases of gross misconduct only to find his management refusing to apply company policy and disciplinary procedures. He mentions a number of incidents of gross misconduct including:

A security guard caught stealing from the company warehouse. Allowed back to work after three months suspension on full pay.

Another guard, regularly asleep on duty and another drunk on duty. All retained their jobs.

Backstabbing\Sabotage\Undermining

We discussed the precarious position this left Alan in, with workers who he had reported and who should have been dismissed. Dixon explained that such workers would hold a grudge against him and would do anything to get rid of him. Effectively he became a marked man. The workforce certainly would not support him and some would have gone behind his back to senior management. Anything Alan did that they didn’t like they could twist into a misdemeanour on his part and also he would be set up to fail – a euphemism for sabotage or undermining.

Alan agreed. He had heard some of this but could not escape it, other than to give up his job which is not in his mindset. He would have been more inclined to attempt to correct the situation. On this point Alan’s unscrupulous managers would have been acutely aware that he could expose them, which would lead to further targetting.

in April 2019 Alan was TUPE’d to SECURITAS. Contract terms were honoured and after a period of seven years without a pay rise at MITIE a 7% pay rise was forthcoming. Alas but from that point on he says he percieved that his cards were being marked with SECURITAS by the toxic contract manager(s) at IN Bev et al.

The TUPE process began before he went to hospital. he says the manager responsible for security at AB Inbev was keen to point out to his new bosses that she would’t have him on site. There began a relocation process where Alan was eventually dismissed after he discussed reasonable adjustments which were simply refused.

When another manager came to work with Alan they both agreed that this workplace was not normal and showed the company in a bad light. As Alan wasn’t being listened to, he would attempt to rectify the situation and he was instantly dismissed.

Moral Injury

We conclude you would have to be dishonest to work in Alan’s Job with Mitie if you wanted to fit in. This reminds us that “Fit in or Fuck Off” is a well used mantra in toxic work cultures.

Toxic Work Culture

Editorial Comment

In November 2020 Boris Johnson gave a judgement when a complaint was raised about bullying in the Home Office implicating home secretary Priti Patel.  We think it was wrong to exonerate her on the grounds that the leadership of any team\department are responsible for the mental and physical health and safety of all the colleagues in the workplace.  The press at the time were describing a toxic workplace.  As a leader Patel should have had the skills and experience to detect and manage fairly the behaviours which cause this, and not to become one of the actors. Boris Johnson as her boss should also have been able to make a judgement that was fair.  He has access to expertise at the top level of academia who would have been able to dissect the behaviour and culture in an organisation and point out the roles of all of the actors.  The fact this happened in the highest office in the land leaves the festering sore of toxic workplace culture to grow and flourish by providing a template policy for organisations to mimic.  We think because the system that supports workers who are bullied is open to abuse, the guidelines that are applicable when making such a judgement should take into account proper investigative practice by qualified people.

In Britain the law allows for judgement at several levels:  The employer, the enforcement agencies and the courts are all parts of the system. 

What can possibly go wrong?  Start with management and leadership training.  Human Factors are an important part of leadership training and personnel selection.  In any population people with various characteristics come together in communities and workplaces to form teams.  We know from studies that the mindset of the population is diverse, for example 25% of people at some time in UK will suffer a mental illness.  (Office of National Statistics).  One study promoted by Crimewatch UK said that 54 percent of people like to get on with their neighbours.  Not much is said about the other 46 percent but as many as 20% have a variety of personality disorders and 3% or so have some of the worst anti-social personality types.

A respected teacher in the field of information security described the world as a place where you meet many people and make very few friends.  He said “The world population numbers in billions so the percentage of friends you make is infinitely small compared to the rest of the population.  Friends are people you welcome and ask into the house when they come to your front door and who you can trust with your property and business.  Everyone else you leave at the front door”.

Toxic Skills as a Risk

There is a high degree of probability, that when you meet someone they will attempt to exploit you. Normally if it’s for friendship, or business then consent will be part of the deal.

What harm does it do?

Toxic people exploit others in such a way as to cause them harm. To achieve this they take advantage of the target’s human characteristics.  The most toxic people will be able to masquerade as friendly, while developing the ability to deliver a toxic blow at a time of their choosing.  Sometimes it’s for money, other times it’s for sex and yes, once they’ve achieved contact and the honeymoon is over, they will be in control and will remain so until they have got what they want. Some recent examples of exploitation are listed here. At the extreme end of the scale, Toxic people will kill you once they have had their satisfaction. In the workplace, more likely they will get rid of you, by the back door route. Exposing perpetrators is a risk. Mostly they strike for their own satisfaction and leave physical, psychological or financial damage behind.  They will brag about you or humiliate you as part of the process.  The type of harm inflicted by people with these behaviours, delivered in one or more aggressive incidents has been identified by Michael Linden in 2003. Known as Post Traumatic Embitterment Disorder (PTED) it appears as a branch of PTSD according to the National Bullying Helpline

Safe to say anyone deliberately indulging in bullying behaviour is intent on harming a victim and yet a prosecution for bullying is a difficult thing to arrange. Nobody wants bullying in their life, but when it happens it creates fear – a natural response in the human body to fight, stand still or flee accompanied by a release of adrenalin, too much of which is physically harmful.

The Antithisis of managing by Fear

Some people think a little stress is necessary for good leadership which is a myth.  Good leadership practices reward performance, teach motivational skills and team building. These are the antithesis of toxic management.  Motivational skills are based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Team building is based on Belbin’s team skills for example. Here we think bullying is a throwback to slavery.

Toxic Management


Toxic Skills include the ability to control, deceive and manipulate others.  The ability to persuade  and network with like-minded people are well developed in toxic minds.  What your toxic co-workers and your toxic bosses are discussing between themselves about you will be hidden from view.  If you ask what was said or to be included in conversations, you will be lied to. Any copies of conversations requested will be legally redacted.  (Only the justice system can expose that).  Tactically toxic people will deny any allegation and make out the victim is the guilty party to cover themselves.

One senior NHS manager told us what it was like to keep up with the demands of what his toxic boss euphemistically called objectives.  It exhausted him.

 When he could no longer fulfil his role in a professional manner due to continuous interference, aka micromanagement, he left.  The problem was he could no longer focus on really important work while being pressurised into trivial tasks. Nor could he delegate without his decisions coming into question above and below him in the management chain.  He said ‘After saving the NHS a significant six figure sum and lowering its carbon footprint I had been further engaged by the finance department of Kent and Medway NHS Trust to run up a project worth millions to the NHS and which would revolutionise patient care in Kent. At the same time my team was rolling out hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of IT.  I realised when I was pressurised into making a business case to justify a three thousand pound security system for this job that my boss was trying to get rid of me.  As I left the CCTV fell into disuse and £60K went missing.  I was’nt going to hang around for that. I had already complained about his management style after years of abusive supervision.  Prior to this incident a bodged job by one of his sycophants left a help desk and my team without a computer network for several weeks.  As I fixed that I spoke out.  I was under threat for two years or more before during and after that and had little or no support from my union, Unite. I had to deal with it on my own. in the end my replacement(s) were already briefed and I was about to be side-lined and demoted.  Occupational Health and HR weren’t interested, the union claimed they couldn’t support me.  I was so unwell after that that I lost all confidence in any sort of job.  It ended my career early and cost me 2 years in lost wages. It wasn’t just the continuous micro aggression.  The objectives he set were usually blocked and managed to maximise my workload. This meant I had a high degree of challenge and no support.  He knew this.  before I left I gave the trust the opportunity to change its toxic culture in 2016 shortly after the Frances Report came out. It chose not to.’  (Given that this organisation is responsible for treating the victims of toxic people, it opens yet another Pandora box.) 

Investigating Bullying

To successfully investigate workplace bullying, an investigator would need to be; independent, knowledgeable about the characteristics of toxic bosses and co-workers, have training in leadership, be able to expose lies, and to ask meaningful questions of the victim and assailant, also to find witnesses or evidence to corroborate with the victim’s complaint and the power to protect witnesses from intimidation.

The language  that can record and accurately describe incidents of bullying which are aimed at the emotions is not well known.  Complaints present as a weakness. 

Toxic Workplaces cost more. They are hard work and Time is money. Workers in toxic situations are faced with maintaining work performance, while simultaneously struggling to decode and describe the behaviour which affects them.  This manifests itself in various ways; low performance after loss of sleep over a long period of time are a gift to the toxic boss who can use it to fire the victim.

Non-toxic managers will have an obligation to protect employees but will be conflicted by culture and policy rigged in favour of the toxic culture.  This presents a further challenge when it comes to following up or raising a grievance. 

Given the presence of threat and fear, victims are usually reluctant to name witnesses and witnesses don’t speak, presenting a wall of silence. 

In the toxic workplace, investigations usually have only three official actors:  The perpetrator,  the victim and the investigator.  Audit is absent.  In these circumstances the likelihood that an investigation will produce a positive result for the complainer when an aggressive boss by asserts his “right to manage” and the investigator doesn’t know the difference between aggression and assertiveness.  When this changes, workplace bullying will be on the road to becoming a thing of the past.

Conclusion

For this reason we are supporting Alan Shawcroft to raise awareness of toxic work culture as a means of management.  We also support the national bullying helpline who are advocating change in the light of PTED to the Legal and HR community.

Stuart Dixon FRSA, MInstLM

Interview with Alan Shawcroft about his experience at SECURITAS

By Stuart Dixon

Summary

I interviewed Alan Shawcroft on 3rd December 2020 after seeing a post in a military Facebook forum bringing attention to the way he was treated by SECURITAS.  See his GOFUNDME page for more details.  Alan is campaigning about workplace bullying.

I asked to interview Alan because of an awareness of the late Dr Tim Field’s pioneering work on the topic – aptly named insulting behaviour by the arbitration and conciliation service, ACAS.  On Facebook I noted some destructive remarks which Alan thought was trolling, but which indicated to me a typical lack of empathy and understanding of the topic.

Our most recent experience is with change campaigns, studies into toxic culture and organisational behaviour.  We give charitable support, especially to ex-service personnel who find themselves in Alan’s position.

Alan is a veteran of the British Army with experience gained on military operations in Northern Ireland and other conflict zones like Iraq. After exemplary army service, serving as a Detective Constable, he foiled a terrorist plan to bomb Bluewater Shopping Center in Kent. His action gained him a commendation.

Alan Shawcroft receives a Chief Constables commendation for his role in operation CREVICE.

Alan now finds himself serialising the episodes of workplace bullying he experienced after working for SECURITAS Ltd, who had summarily dismissed him, following a long spell in hospital and recovering from a knee injury acquired in service.  He wasn’t allowed back to work.  Alan says a number of charges against him were trumped up, before he went into hospital.  He wasn’t allowed to defend himself and thought he would be going back to work only to be dismissed.

In describing his job he relates a number of incidents amounting to abusive supervision by his line manager.  He had grievances about her behaviour towards him, but none of it was heard by the company.  Moreover while Alan kept in touch with the GMB Union about the situation, there was a serious failure by them to recognise the toxic culture he was in and provide appropriate support to both him and his employer.  In fact they scuppered his attempt to get to a tribunal.

Alan says “SECURITAS is an employer that lists itself as working with the armed forces to employ veterans”. They say they are “shaping managers into leaders and culture-bearers”.

Military Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD)

At some point in his Northern Ireland experience, Alan acquired PTSD which left him with enduring images and thoughts from deadly incidents. His illness leaves him with acute guilt and anxiety. The flash backs associated with PTSD incapacitate him from time to time, triggered by his current situation. He cites one recent incident where he was driving a long distance at night in traffic, when his mind switched from driving an automatic vehicle to a manual vehicle (like an army land rover). He was boxed in by traffic, and at that point his fight or flight mechanism triggered. He could not get the vehicle into gear. The response was broken when other drivers intervened and he was able to regain function.

(Alan like so many ex-service personnel, would struggle to manage his own psychological injury. He is grateful for the upsurge of attention to PTSD, because he was a soldier in a time when knowledge and treatment were not commonly available. These came decades after he was injured. Before the behaviours caused by PTSD were linked to trauma, it wasn’t treated as an illness.  Sufferers lived with it, whatever that meant for them; Self-medication (with alcohol), reckless lifestyle choices, self harming and eventual suicide were common coping strategies.  While there is a much clearer understanding today,  these are still commonplace.  Alarming suicide rates point to a prevalence amongst veterans.)

Alan very nearly took his own life which caused him to seek treatment.  Fortunately, and with help, Alan has managed to get through this.

Depression, is another part of the problem.

(If you are having suicidal thoughts please contact SAMARITANS – by Phone: 116 123 or www.samaritans.org).

PTSD and Bullying

The late Dr Tim Field linked PTSD to bullying and then Bullying to Suicide or as he named it, Bullycide.

Toxic Work Culture

At SECURITAS Alan encountered a number of incidents against him, which amounted to a course of ill treatment, led by a bullying manager. His dismissal eventually came after a number of attempts to smear his work performance, delivered by a toxic boss.  Also there were occasions when colleagues let it be known that his line managers had shared their plans for Alan with them.

Alan says this caused him stress.  The type of stress this causes is sleepless nights spent racking ones brains as to how to deliver an often unfair workload, while dealing simultaneously with bullying for yourself and colleaguesThe impact on people is mental and physical exhaustion, it gradually wears you down.  (SD)

Alan agreed his toxic boss took a demeaning attitude towards him, designed to de-humanise him and disassociate him with his exemplary service career. She had chosen to destroy his reputation by trumping up incidents and blaming him for them without evidence.

SECURITAS say they shape their managers according to their own management model.

Military Mindset\Employability

Despite his PTSD, and his treatment by SECURITAS Alan’s military mindset was obviously intact during his employment there.  Among the many attributes of him, gained and honed through military service are integrity and diligence. The Army says he has a highly desirable skillset which includes the ability to take in requirements for action and quickly produce working solutions, while keeping risk and contingency under review.  Team Skills are well developed etc.

Alan’s sense of integrity and work ethic would recognise a toxic workplace and attempt to resolve it, not just for himself but for the wellbeing of his colleagues.

(Unlike civilian organisations that often regard training as a luxury and can reserve it, army leadership courses are delivered systematically and verified at each step in the career, leaders are often tested before taking up a role.  In this respect the British Army leads compared to Industry and Public Services.)  Army Structures and systems allow for fairness and discipline.

Organisational Behaviour

In our experience, it’s one thing to have a policy and another to ensure people don’t “game it” for their own pleasure and abuse.

The charges made against Alan and upheld without any opportunity to defend himself, not only infringe his human rights but are unbelievable when compared to his service background.

Alan said he was offered a move in the process but his requests for reasonable adjustments around travel times and distances (linked to PTSD) were sidelined – further narrowing his work options.

It isn’t unusual to be singled out for special treatment in the work place, especially if you have a reputation. Organisational Culture is often shaped by managers with a distorted view of leadership, some of whom need to bully to make their way in life.

The general population comprises about 56 percent of normal people – people who like to get on with others.  Also in the population there are a number of different mindsets and attitudes. As many as 20 percent of the population have malicious or toxic characteristics, some linked with a dark triad of personality disorders. In work these people rule by fear and use job security and networking skills to destroy people for their own pleasure. Lying, stealing and ingnoring or granting requests to get what they want comes as second nature. Unless you can put up with this, you will naturally struggle.

Trophy Workers

People in Alan’s situation make good targets because companies see them as trophies initially.  Toxic bosses want you to do a good job, and themselves to get the praise.  They also thrive on taking scalps. That is, they will bring down a target after controlling and demeaning them has given them their “fix” and once they are no more use to them, or they become a threat.  To be fair toxic bosses are achievers, but not according to a management model Alan would be familiar with until it was too late.  Their achievement often comes at a (hidden) cost to the people they are in charge of.  Bragging about their achievements, and the people they use, helps them to gain more power, and absolute control.

Alan said that on top of PTSD he was living in fear for his job. Allegations being made were never discussed in a disciplinary setting where he was allowed a defence. All of this exacerbated his PTSD and eventually led him to attempt suicide more than once.

Dixon said he was personally grateful to Alan for his role in Operation CREVICE.  His family are frequent visitors to the terrorist’s choice of target.

REspect

Introduction – Management techniques and toxic workplaces.

Predicting Human Performance

Driving a workforce against performance targets can be a risky but rewarding affair but how can we gauge success with reasonable confidence, and equip people to succeed? 

According to one model attributed to H. Sanford known as the challenge and support model, the factors that determine human performance over time are the scale of the challenge, and the amount (and type) of support available to achieve the task.

Growth

Performance outcomes are predictable.  Of the four likely outcomes to any task predicted by the challenge support model, only one scenario leads to complete success and truly great performance.  This is called Growth.

Death

Another scenario, euphemistically called Death, predicts breakdown and failure.  Death is the consequence of too much challenge coupled with too little support.  In the workplace, death is literally the end of the line for individual workers and can lead to poor health for many others. 

In Death, stress, and burnout have regularly exceeded tolerable levels and have impacted on the person or persons assigned the task with predictable outcomes such as a high staff turnover, the potential actual death of a worker, and subsequent losses for the employer.

Team Work

According to Belbin, good management practice is to support people by building well developed teams.  A well developed team comprises people with various personality traits in enough abundance to sustain the activity and provide support for individual workers.

Positive Team Skills

Belbin names the six positive characteristics of team workers.  Both the challenge and support model and Belbin’s approach have developed into defacto standards in leadership and management and in combination they form the mainstay of modern leadership training.

Management Practice

Any workforce or team usually has an appointed manager, in a hierarchy of managers,  He or she is someone who not only drives the task but who’s role it is to maintain a productivity and performance.

Job Satisfaction

Truly great managers learn to build teams and balance the level of challenge and support in such a way as to sustain a steady rise in growth.  Happiness and pride in the product provide a degree of satisfaction.

Incentives

Work (used to be) incentivised in order to recruit and retain skills,  From the workforce, managers were selected and trained to understand not only their job, but the additional skill and workplace psychology needed to manage people.  The entire workforce benefited in the long term by development opportunities which included training, promotions and social improvement which secured the future of families.  

Fairness

Truly great management is a mindset.  It should be a satisfying experience for managers and workers alike. 

It takes qualities such as empathy to bond people into teams, and to a job, and loyalty to retain them.  Management is about supporting people and therefore depends on a particular mindset which in turn comes out in the selection process.

Alternative Management Styles

Managers nurtured in structured management systems, as described above, and people who come to work expecting to be treated fairly and have satisfying and rewarding jobs will struggle mentally in alternative management systems because of their different characteristics. Briefly one such alternative paradigm sustains growth by replacing burnt out workers from a steady supply of fresh, cheap labour who are disposable.  In this unacceptable approach, the mindset required to manage people will disregard the human factors evidenced by the Challenge \ support model and Belbin Team skills and is more likely to mis-use them to get what they want.  For the toxic mindset, satisfaction is something they crave – for themselves.  This mindset brings different team skills into play. 

Toxic management is the result of employing and idolising people who’s character traits align with the dark triad of behaviours and who don’t care for people – just results. 

In the resulting tyranny, according to the late Dr Tim Field, anything goes as long as management gets what it wants.  For example when a toxic boss doesn’t get what he or she wants – he or she will circumvent any agreed management process or contract and exploit fear backed up by increasing the level of challenge and removing support.  According to Field, alternative management styles have a number of repeatable and highly offensive processes aimed at getting what the toxic boss wants.  

This alternative management practice is prevalent, both in the workforce and the community.   

What Works Wellbeing says its goal is to improve, and save, lives through better policy and practice for wellbeing.

A good starting point would be the policy that allows alternative management approaches to flourish.  What currently  prevents wellbeing from being realised is that power, in the form of budget and control is often in the hands of toxic managers and the results are hidden.  No problem for a toxic mindset. 

In the next article we will be outlining the criteria for fair management policy that supports wellbeing at work.


Stuart Dixon