Should staff report verbal abuse? The answer is YES, YES and YES!- to their manager; on the incident reporting system; to the police if necessary.

End of blog 🙂   Well not quite.

For whatever reason (and there are quite a few we will come to) staff are reluctant to report verbal abuse (see attached report for more detail).


I can also add lots of anecdotal evidence to this from investigations I have carried out or training courses I have given, and then, more recently, from a meeting I had with a palliative care community team.

This team had started alerting their HR department to high occurrences of verbal abuse, mainly from relatives of those they were providing palliative (end-of-life) care to in their homes. They had not approached HR; rather a pro-active HR manager had discovered this as she sought to address a staff survey that had flagged up a high percentage of staff reporting feelings of being at risk. She asked if I would talk to them at their next team meeting and, as a security adviser, give them some tips and advice.

A fairly straightforward request and one that would not normally cause me any problems. Fast forward 10 minutes into that meeting and I suddenly doubted whether I could help this team. This was not through a lack of planning; I had several ideas and had prepared for the meeting. What I had underestimated was the complexity of the problem. Families of sick relatives who, for ‘genuine’ reasons and sometimes for no good reason, were subjecting staff to inappropriate comments, not always personal but still making staff feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. Staff were feeling powerless to stop this, mainly through their desires to ensure that the vital care they were giving took priority over everything else.

What surprised me most was that the team were not aware of how frequently this was occurring. This was the first time, as a group, they had really touched on this matter, and their camaraderie was growing as they looked to me for solutions. And did I have any? Well, yes, some, but I knew they would not be met with great enthusiasm. All ‘solutions’ were from the Lone-working policy, some from the Violence and Aggression policy (warning letters, etc.).  However, as a team, they were already well-informed of these through their manager.

Yet we did make some headway through reporting procedures. The team knew they should report ‘incidents’ but were unclear whether some of the behaviors warranted it. We spoke about recording all behavior on care notes and handover sheets. We spoke about barriers to reporting; time; sympathy; and the most common, a ‘just part of the job’ mindset. We spoke about the benefits of reporting all verbal abuse encountered.

After working through these points, and 55 minutes into my 60-minute ‘routine’, I wondered how I could walk away from this with some really meaningful input. And then one of the team came to my rescue. ‘This has been really useful, just all of us together chatting about the home visits that cause us the most concern’. ‘Yes, I agree,’ from another, ‘we need to do this more often to make sure we are all prepared for the situations we are walking into’. And then other positive comments followed, and a decision from the manager to dedicate 30 minutes a week at the team meeting to relatives behavior and verbal abuse.

Job done? Roll on three months and the manager reported real progress in this area. Could I take any credit?  No, not really, and it isn’t always about that, but for whatever reason I was there, acting as a sounding board for 60 minutes and helping a team work through their lone-working problem. And all we did was talk. And listen.

End of blog:)

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