Difficult dynamics in the workplace

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Difficult dynamics in the workplace

Post by Peach » Sat Jun 03, 2017 2:03 pm

I’m not quite sure whether sharing this on this forum is a good idea, I've typed this out several times over the past few weeks but then chickened out of posting it but I don't know where else to turn so taking a leap of faith.

I finished training last year and I had a awful experience overall. Its a long story but in a nutshell in my first year I felt compelled to whistle blow because of really concerning practices I had witnessed. I was dissuaded from doing so but did it anyway which resulted in disciplinary action for those concerned. It had negative consequences for me professionally and once training was done I was relieved to get away from that area. This whole experience also had a significant negative impact on me personally it really knocked my confidence, faith in the profession and impacted my own mental health and I vowed that I would not tolerate a toxic work environment to the deteriment of my own well being again.

I’ve been in the job for a few months now in a qualifed post and unfortunately it’s turning out to be a really negative experience for a range of reasons predominantly because the dynamics in the team are awful. To summarise I’ll give a brief description my of main colleagues:

Head of psychology:
He has been absolutely lovely to me in fact too nice, to the point where I feel uneasy...but everyone in the service at some point has resorted to union/hr involvement regarding his behaviour which includes a multitude of sins so I’m constantly anxious about if and when difficulties between us will arise. Futhermore he's openly been very disparaging about other people including psychologists - calling people useless etc.

The Supervisor:
She is well meaning but very timid and therefore quite ineffectual. Supervision is a very frustrating experience because she never gives a concrete answer to anything, everything is vague. She becomes quite visibly anxious when I try to express any concerns about the service and she just advises I keep my head down and get through it and to 'keep the head of psychology contained' - which I find a frustrating notion, it's not my responsibility as a band 7 to contain a band 8d! :roll:

My Operational Manager:
She’s a senior psychologist but seems to lack self-awareness and interpersonal skills. Staff on the inpatient unit in the past have catalogued a range of complaints against her and have reported that they don't take well to her style. Other psychologists in the service including me have managed to work on the inpatient unit without any problem. However staff have continued to make a range of ongoing complaints about her and I raised these concerns with operational manager first to try and give her the opportunity to respond constructively, when she didn’t I then went to the head of the service but ultimately nothing changed. Furthermore, she makes really inappropriate self disclosures, she constantly undermines me and questions every clinical decision I make which is making me lose confidence in my clinical skill. And this past week she seemingly tried to set me up by making it seem like I hadn’t done something important which we had only hours before agreed would be her responsibility. I would have just interpreted this as a misundertanding but I've had feedback that she's done similar things like this in the past to others. Thankfully I had the foresight to create a paper trial and had witnesses to our conversation regarding this. Anyway this has left me feeling very vulnerable to further incidences like this.

In addition, she’s made some really racially insensitive comments that have left me feeling awkward and uncomfortable which I confronted her about. I just interpreted it as her not being experienced in engaging with someone from a different ethnic background and part of her wider apparent social awkwardness rather than being racist towards me. However, the assistant psychologist confided in me over lunch recently that a similar thing happened to her although her incident was much worse than my experiences. The assistant doesn’t want it taken further because she’s going to be starting training on the local course soon where this psychologist is very heavily involved and feels more harm than good will come from addressing it. The assistant despite understandably being upset came to a similar conclusion about it being related to this psychologists social awkwardness rather than being racist but since I’ve already confronted operational manager about this, I feel so upset that she’s done it again. :(

The bulk of my post is providing input to a third sector organisation which is a new collaboration with our service and so its been down to me to develop this part of the role which has been a significant challenge. Despite the fact that they’re keen to have a psychologist there, the service is actually quite well resourced and there are various different professionals who do bits of what of psychologist could do and so I’m finding it hard to carve my niche. This has left me feeling really worthless and a bit pointless without much work to do.

So far I’ve tried the following:

- Reaching out to other psychologists who work in a similar speciality for advice
- I’ve looked into doing further training and booked onto some workshops and conferences which I think might help me
- I’ve had discussions with other team members to generate ideas about how to shape my role
- I’ve also paid for a few supervision sessions with another external psychologist privately to help with the emotional impact of the work and to circumvent the burn out and trauma that I feel I'm at risk off from the job but for financial reasons I can’t afford to maintain that.
- I'm also contemplating approaching a colleague in the third sector service to mentor me. However I feel so awkward about asking her because I'm not sure what having a mentor would actually entail I just feel like it might be something that might help. :oops:

Ultimately both parts of the job present some really difficult challenges and has left me feeling drained, fed up and depressed. The obvious answer would be to leave this job however it’s difficult to do that for the following reasons:

1) If I leave so soon without really defining my role in the third sector service and proving the value it’s likely they won’t get another psychologist and I’d feel awful about that as the team there are lovely.

2) I’ve just moved to the area and still settling in and I wanted to focus on personal life goals so I feel I need to stay put in this job sliightly longer until I’ve done that a bit more.

3) Psychology is a small world and it’s even smaller within a specific speciality. I don’t want to get on the wrong side of the head of service by leaving so soon. He's already proven that he has no qualms about being disaparaging about people. I feel like the only reason he would find acceptable for me moving on would be for career progression i.e. to an 8A post as opposed to escaping to another band 7. Which is why I’m trying to do further training to put myself in a position to do this.

4) I actually really enjoy the clinical work, it’s interesting and there are few opportunities to get this type of experience and so in the long term it will be good for my professional development. If it wasn't for the dynamics and lack of support it would be my dream job.

Although the things I’ve described wouldn’t fall under the category of whistleblowing, I feel that the longer I stay the greater the likelihood that I will uncover practices that might need whistleblowing as concerning things keep emerging. Having been through that process before I don’t think I can survive it again. I don’t have faith that raising concerns with HR or a union rep would come to much good either but that could just be my feelings of hopelessness talking. However I'm also the kind of person who finds it hard to leave well enough alone no matter how big the fall out will be so I know it's inevitable that I'm going to say or do something. I just don't know how to minimise the personal and professional damage to myself.

I also feel like if I change jobs I'll end up in a similar negative environment as some of the concerns I've raised have been prevalant to some degree in every service I've worked in since i graduated from undergrad. Thankfully there's always been other people in each service who have experinced similar struggles so that's provided me some reassurance that problem isn't wholly me! Although I still keep internalizing these experiences and as a result I'm becoming worried about the long term psychological impact it's going to have on me as I'm already struggling personally and losing hope that I'll ever work in a service where I feel safe.

I apologise profusely for this lengthy post and will be amazed if anyone reads it all. I don't know what I'm looking for perhaps advice, reassurance, opportunity to vent...
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Re: Difficult dynamics in the workplace

Post by Alex » Sat Jun 03, 2017 4:48 pm

Personally I would move on and change job. I would make up a reason with a kernel of truth. Psychologists move about all the time and work in short-term contracts. By the time you leave it will probably be 6 months. May the service won't get another psychologist but thats not your problem they have to think about their systems. Also you are more likely to be able to work on your personal goals when you feel more satisfied with your job. I feel that teams make or break a job. If people know what this head of service is like then they are unlikely to believe him if he is disparaging - colleagues can evaluate and have their own minds.

Vote with your feet!

I suppose the only thing is if you are particularly attuned to these issues, you're right moving may not solve it. Have you consider your own therapy to help you manage your own emotional reactions and figure out when you should become involved or not? Supervision is fine but it sounds like it is affecting you on a personal level and that there is a history.

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Re: Difficult dynamics in the workplace

Post by Peach » Sat Jun 03, 2017 5:44 pm

Thanks Alex i appreciate your advice. I have been keeping an eye out for other jobs but nothing good is coming up at the moment. I don't want to compromise on my speciality because I'm not really interested in anything else. In the past I was flexible on location whereas now I love where I live and want to settle here so that limits my options but there do tend to be a few jobs a year in this area in this speciality, so I just have to hang tight for the right fit.

The head of the service is actually really charasmatic and so beyond our service I'm not sure how people percieve him so it's difficult to gauge how potentially damaging getting on the wrong side of him could be.

I've had personal therapy so I'm quite aware of my own stuff and my responses and where they come from. Therapy has helped me to start to own that part of me that can't leave well enough alone and start to embrace and use it as a strength, although it still can be a weakness obviously. When I mentioned about similar things happening in previous services - I didn't mean it was always happening to me personally because it often doesn't and I don't always find it distressing more disappointing. In the past as a trainee and doing a series of 1 year posts prior to training I was never sticking around for too long so it was easier to get through it and let it go.Plus being a junior member of staff meant that there were less expectations also so it was easy to step back. But as a band 7 when I have band 4's, band 5's and 6's coming to me and complaining about the band 8 psychologist I don't think it's appropriate to do nothing about that. Day to day I feel I'm coping ok at work and I've had really positive feedback especially from the third sector role even though I don't feel I'm doing anything. It's more on a personal level outside of work I just feel tired - mentally, physically, spiritually etc. And more globally within this profession I'm irritated by the lack of action towards change even on a small level - there's lots of talk and reflecting about stuff but people seldom do anything and its a massive bug bear of mine.

I guess even if I move on I just wonder about how other people cope with difficult dynamics generally? Changing jobs can't always be the solution.
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Re: Difficult dynamics in the workplace

Post by Spatch » Mon Jun 05, 2017 3:43 pm

I guess even if I move on I just wonder about how other people cope with difficult dynamics generally? Changing jobs can't always be the solution.
This is really a tricky situation and I am sorry that you find yourself in such an environment.

Sometimes It may be worth thinking about the organisational or systemic factors that may influence a workplace, because if the sickness is top down it is generally harder to change. Or it could be the additional pressure within the health service making itself spread to the workforce. From what you have said, it looks like formal leadership is lacking, but there may be informal pathways where there are sources of support/ good leadership and guidance which could be worth seeking out. You don't really talk about the non psychology managers and senior staff, and are some of these more reasonable?

Although you mention certain psychologists not being effective, are there others who you do value or are inspiring and are there opportunities to band together to mitigate some of the difficulties? I too share some of the frustrations about reflection over action, but I have often taken the approach that it can be better to seek forgiveness rather than permission a lot of the time, (especially if it works out well in hindsight).

If a situation really is intractable, it can come down to harm reduction, keeping yourself safe and planning your escape route. Sadly this is something that is an increasing reality for psychologists in the NHS and many have been driven out to independent working due to unrealistic pressures and targets (our very own Miriam is an example of this). There are still some good places and you always need to keep in mind the value you have and what you can offer other organisations.
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Re: Difficult dynamics in the workplace

Post by alexh » Wed Jun 07, 2017 1:17 pm

When a colleague comes to complain about the other psychologist(s) what are they asking for and expecting of you? Do they expect you to do something about it on their behalf or is that coming from your sense of responsibility?

Could you instead support your lower banded colleagues and help them to make the best of working with their difficult colleagues? They'll meet plenty in their careers. Maybe you could help them to make sense of it and work with and around the difficulties rather than challenging then and changing them directly. Especially as you may not have either the power, remit or personal resources to do anything about it, even if you wanted to.

Presumably the difficult colleagues also have strengths they bring to their roles. "Managing up" is a very useful concept. Similarly, I have met many anxious senior clinicians (of all professions), and again I think it is OK for the rest of the team to be aware and work with that as a group without worrying about hierarchy and "appropriateness", it's good team working and collaboration.

You are getting good feedback in your third sector role. I would focus on this and find out what they appreciate, then do more if it. What are they valuing that you are missing? Definitely seek a mentor to help you define and build the role for yourself.

I would guess you find yourself more drawn into the dynamics issues when you are feeling less confident about your own role. I would encourage you to focus on the aspects you enjoy, and on your strengths and those of your colleagues to balance the negatives. There are likely to be some of the same problems and some new ones in the next team.

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Re: Difficult dynamics in the workplace

Post by reefflex » Mon Jun 12, 2017 5:23 pm


I know its not what you want to hear, but this is a toxic environment that has been here long before you and it's not going to change easily. Remember the myth of the hero innovator.

The simple truth is that the culture of the organisation comes from the top, and there can be only one culture. The culture of how staff are treated is also the culture of how patients are treated.

You observe lack of team cohesion, low morale, inconsistent boundaries, disparagement, betrayal and back-covering. This is not a healthy place to work. I'm not saying leave straight away, but first leave in your mind, then begin a managed process of departure.

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Re: Difficult dynamics in the workplace

Post by Peach » Wed Jun 21, 2017 11:06 pm

Thanks for all the replies. I agree with a lot of what has been said. Ultimately I need to leave and thats become a priority of mine now. I still do feel conflicted because there's so much I want to contibute to the service, particularly the third sector role but ultimately because I'm not happy I'm not going to be as much use as I could be, so might as well pass the baton to someone else who might be able to. I'm also resentful again at having to make personal sacrifices for this profession i.e. I want to buy a house but that means now waiting at least another year until i've found a job, started and through the 6 month probation before I can apply for a mortgage. But I suppose the quicker I move on, the quicker I can get some stability in my personal life.

In response to some of the questions asked:

There are only psychologists in the team and 1 part time admin, so there's no one else like a manager etc who isn't a psychologist who I could go to for support etc. The admin lady and I have a good vent together about the service though which helps! I deal with some senior clinicians and managers in some of the services we provide input to such as the third sector service and they are all nice and reasonable. I've sought some support from the consultant medic in the third sector organisation who I really admire and want as a mentor and she was partly responsible for helping me start to find my feet a little bit in developing the psychology provision but theres only so much a non-psychologist can support with that.

When colleagues complain it varies in what they want. Sometimes it appears they just want to vent and want containment. Other times they tell me concerns becuase they want me to intervene i.e. 'i'm concerned about her work with this client because she did xyz, can you please do some joint work/supervise/consult etc with me on this case instead.'
alexh wrote: Could you instead support your lower banded colleagues and help them to make the best of working with their difficult colleagues?
It's a good point and it was something I've been trying to do as I don't want to collude with their concerns about this psychologist to create a split but I'm not sure how successful I've been in doing that. There was another psychologist who had only been in post a short time and left not long ago and she faced the same issues I'm having. However, it seemed to impact her more than it did me and she reflected on the fact that this was because her professional experiences so far were all supportive and containing and so that made me worry that I because I haven't had those experiences that I was accepting the dynamics as the norm and becoming quite blinkered to bad practice based on my past experiences. So I think maybe I'm overcorrecting to address that fear and I might need to recalibrate. I guess also as time has gone on and these complaints have become more frequent it feels like I'm just fire fighting and that's what's made me question whether more action is appropriate and what led to me raising these concerns with the head of the service a few months ago and contemplating if further action might be needed.

But I think I just need to concede defeat for my own sanity and move on. Maybe I can strike lucky on my next post.
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