Bullied Blogger: The bloody, bloody pressure and added value of conspiracy theories

March 10, 2009

3 March: After talking to my partner, old friends and the union, I decide to send an email to Helen Murr outlining my concerns about Marcus and suggesting a temporary change of line manager. This is a compromise but the best way forward. I reflect a great deal on my words, highlighting some positives about Marcus so I am not accused of being completely against him.

My motive is simple. Marcus wants me out, I know that now, but with the possibility of some project work secured with grants from Marcia Smith of children’s services and a link with another division I would be crazy to go part time now and miss out. I’ll build a professional relationship with Brenda Goodie of psychology so this can act as a “buffer” between me and Marcus. I can then make more alliances outside my own division. I think it’s a sound way forward.

I compose the email to Helen Murr:

… Marcus certainly has created an impact… I have been anxious about this and wonder whether it’s a complete misunderstanding… perhaps there are compatibility issues… I want to be a part of developments, as you know I have always been committed to the university and undertaken a range of high-profile activities… wonder whether you might consider an alternative line manager as a way of calming things down… I am having sleepless nights and experiencing stress levels that are affecting all aspects of my life…

I tidy it up, make some diplomatic changes and acknowledge Marcus in a more positive light – which I find difficult and disturbing, but it’s strategic. I dispatch it to Helen Murr with fingers crossed. I go and do some teaching and find nothing when I arrive back. On my way out, I check my post tray – there are more copies of vacancies. There’s one in Hong Kong – someone really wants me to see the world…

Before I go home, I make an appointment with my GP because I’ve been feeling terrible. Dominic is in when I arrive home, the kids are out at friends and being dropped off later, so we have some time.

He pushes me on the issue of going half time, pleads with me. I explain about the memo to Helen Murr, and he asks to see it. He goes a little mad with me – why commit myself to email like that? He points out that my memo is constructed badly and speculates on how it will be taken. I’m now anxious. Last week I was told to contact Marcus about more “new work” and I have been avoiding that, but maybe it’s to talk about the possible research project with Brenda Goodie and Marcia Smith, the new head of children’s services in social care. I have to stay optimistic…

4 March: Call to see Dr Cumin, my GP. I have known her for several years, and she is always an absolute delight. However, as soon as I walk in she looks concerned. She immediately asks what is wrong, and I burst into tears. She calms me down and takes my blood pressure: Sys: 189 / Dia: 120 / Pulse: 116 – she wants me to take time out with stress.

I plead with her to let me carry on. She agrees only if I will monitor things, take readings over the next seven days and come back next week. I have access to a blood-pressure monitor, she gives me a reading chart and we talk briefly about what has been happening. She tells me stress is the number-one problem she gets in her surgery from academics. So what’s new?!

I get into work and find a reply from Helen Murr:

I am pleased that you seem positive about Marcus; perhaps our little talk a few weeks ago helped? However, I can see no reason why a change in line manager can help with the situation. You must work with Marcus on his new business plan. He has, in your absence, undertaken a workload analysis in line with our new strategic plan. I realise that you are finding all this very challenging. Please do not see Marcus’ innovations as a sign of failure on your part to have the capacity to move with changing times.

I am confused by what Helen is saying…

5 March: Marcus calls by first thing. He seems very upbeat but sits down and requests an immediate meeting about my new caseload as from October 2009 because of approaching deadlines.

He provides me with a four-page document that explores profit margins, student experience, added value… he points out that students who attended my modules are at variance with acceptable margins of viability and that a “cost analysis has been rigorously enforced”… I look at his list and statistical analysis, which, from only a cursory glance, has a somewhat dubious methodology.

I notice that quite a range of old modules have been included for the next academic year, and I know that some of them are not as popular as mine – for example, “institutions and asylums”, which has had only a handful of students, and “childhood through the ages” – both Gail’s.

I ask Marcus on what criteria he and Helen judge what stays and what goes – Marcus laughs before explaining that it’s about “added value” and the fit with the division’s overall strategic plan. I say nothing and hold myself back.

I ask if there is something more detailed I could look at. I say “thank you” to Marcus and smile, I suggest that it all seems quite exciting. Marcus seems a little disappointed that I have not challenged his plans – which exclude my modules on women and urban crime. This looks like a fix – there are eight modules dropped, five are mine, three Alan’s – and Alan is leaving. The work I have been “given” from October 2009 is generic – noticeably several areas of teaching that were formerly Gail’s. Don’t say anything.

6 March: I get into work and find an email from Marcus with an attachment on the recently approved business plan:

I would like to thank you for your co-operation with my business plan but do hope you are not too devastated that much of your work has been deemed no longer viable to continue. Unfortunately the criterion we are using is to capture new markets and more profitable opportunities with external agencies – unfortunate in that on this occasion much of your work fails our criterion of “added value”.

There is also a separate email headed “Congratulations to Gail”.

You’ll all be pleased to hear that we have secured a new research contract with Marcia Smith, director of children’s services. This has resulted in a collaborative project on issues that relate to women service users. Gail will be taking a lead on this with Brenda Goodie from psychology… WELL DONE GAIL!!!

I am shocked and devastated by the news, Gail has no expertise in this area. Her specialism is social policy – stuff now allocated to me. I do not understand why this is so blatant. I cannot cry, I cannot get angry, but I feel I need to respond.

Surely I must have enough for a grievance, and this time I will take him and Helen on. I am not going to be walked over, I will deal with this in the most pragmatic way I can. If I go down it will not be without a fight.

Names and other details have been changed.

Are you experiencing problems at work?

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