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Strong management techniques or bullying?

Bullying is a sustained form of psychological abuse which often emanates from a senior member of a team, who believe they are taking a ‘strong line’ with employees. What we know however, is that a fine line exists between strong management and bullying.

The line is crossed when the victim is persistently belittled, hassled and singled out. The victim will begin to show signs they are distressed whilst becoming physically, mentally or psychologically hurt.

Identifying workplace bullying can be difficult Whilst we acknowledge it may not be the intention of the perpetrator, identifying the deed itself and the impact that it has on the victim is essential.

Experts have agreed that bullying will thrive where it is commonplace behaviour across management hierarchy. This is especially the case in competitive environments (patient-led services, teaching environments) where individuals consider bullying as an accepted way of motivating staff.

The SoR has produced in-depth guidance on the subject of Bullying and Harassment [1] which can be found at   

This document presents the analysis from an online survey of students who have been on clinical placement.

The survey was anonymous: 3015 members, who were identified as either SoR student members or lecturers were emailed and asked if they would complete the online questionnaire. A link was sent for the Survey Monkey® tool; the potential subjects were identified from the SoR student database. Respondents were also offered the option of entering a prize draw if they completed the online survey.

500 students completed the online survey. The survey was open from November 2015 to coincide with anti bullying month. The survey closed on January 14th 2016.

The respondents were asked questions about their clinical placement, whether students had been informed of any anti bulling policies, experiences, which procedures were in place to aide and support students and details of any bullying experience. Further questions were asked regarding how the issue was dealt with.

A free anonymous text response box at the end of the survey allowed students or lecturers to provide more in-depth details, should they wish to do so. This resulted in a number of clinical placements who will remain nameless being identified. The SoR will be working closely with these departments and accredited representatives to raise and deal with the issues identified.













62.2% of respondents felt they had been subjected to bullying whilst on their clinical placement. When further questioned regarding the form the bullying takes, 85.1% of respondents identified being subjected to humiliation and belittling, 73.4% experienced excessive criticism whilst 66.2% cited being ignored or ostracised.

One respondent commented “Although most people would not consider it "serious" bullying, but the staff have been degrading and patronizing, and have also left me feeling out of place and isolated. I have heard members of staff insulting the capabilities of other students, and I have been degraded and isolated myself. It makes you feel depressed, lonely and de-motivated. And it is not the first time that it has happened at this placement”.

The student bullying working party uncovered disparities with persons acting as clinical tutors. A number had not attended the practice educators training. Understandably these members may find communication with students difficult.

The Society of Radiographers will work to ensure that when a course is subject to accreditation, the clinical placement will have at least one trained practice educator who will have attended the practice educators’ scheme and have received a formal qualification. We acknowledge this may take a number of years to implement. Educators in Wales are required to have achieved a formal qualification or they will not be attained the required pay banding.











Throughout the survey and the free text responses, students repeatedly identified they had been belittled by various staff members whilst on their clinical placement. The Society of Radiographers has recently introduced “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”, training which identified behaviour, body language, speech and interpretation. Health and Safety reps have already received the training; a number realised how their behaviour could be interpreted or indeed misinterpreted. This training will be delivered to all health and safety reps attending the advanced course from March 2016. The SoR is also currently working with departments identified in the survey to deal with the issue.










A common theme went through the answers to this question. In the free text box which accompanied the question, students feared repercussion and a number commented they  were told they would not ‘get the required signatures’, ‘would make the situation worse’, , ‘reporting the issue wouldnt change anything’, ‘the fear of being made to look silly or singled out as the troublemaker’.

The SoR must work together with clinical placements/tutors, universities and the students union to ensure that there is support available for students who are being subjected to bullying without fear of retribution.










Whilst we would aim for there to be no further incidents, work must be done to ensure students are confident in approaching relevant parties for support to deal with the issue. We must work together to remove the feeling of awkwardness and embarrassment that students have identified. Work is currently being undertaken to engage students and encourage them to report any incidents, through student talks, updated web pages and a planned conference that will discuss  scheduled for 2016.












A number of students who reported the problem felt that ‘nothing had been done’ to resolve the situation. Universities and clinical placements are required to have bullying policies which will obtain clear guidance and identify the procedural steps which will be taken. The policy should also identify who has responsibility for dealing with such issues, thus identifying the person who can be held accountable should nothing happen. A flowchart is being produced to identify the pathway students should follow when they believe they are being subjected to bullying, whilst taking into account the policy of the HEI including the Samaritans contact number (people who are being bullied may feel more isolated during the night, when there may be no one available to speak to. The Samaritans is a 24 hour helpline. The Samaritans freecall number is 116123, free whether on landline or mobile. Note – no details are made on phone bill so students sharing phones can do so in utmost confidence with no paper trail.

58.8% of respondents had thought about leaving their clinical placement owing to bullying. Radiography is suffering from decreasing levels of students; we simply cannot afford to lose students who wish to train to be radiographers. One student commented:

I was locked in room with male radiographer who was aggressive, abusive, stood in front of the door and refused to let me leave. Many other incidents of inappropriate behaviour by clinical staff resulted in me moving to s different clinical placement in final year.

This is unacceptable behaviour on every level.

[1] Society of Radiographers: (2009), Bullying and Harassment: Achieving dignity at work for all our members


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