By Stuart Dixon
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 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 colleagues. The 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.
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.
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.
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.