Alison* is a midwifery manager, in a metropolitan hospital. She is very experienced, becoming a nurse and then a midwife in the early 1980s and gradually working her way up. As part of her role she has responsibility for several teams of clinical and administrative staff. Recently managing a difficult staffing situation put her health at risk, here is her story:
Hazel* and I worked together for quite a few years, she had a range of personal health issues, both physical and mental, that affected her ability to work at times and we tried to be as supportive of this as possible.
Hazel worked as an Administrative Officer in my department. There were periods of difficulty over several years, but we always worked it out. During a period of change in the past she had lodged a Workcover claim and received some limited Workcover entitlements.
Sadly her partner became very unwell with a terminal illness and from the time of her partner’s diagnosis I saw a marked change in her work.
About 2 years ago we introduced a change in our department that had been decided at an executive level. I worked with my whole team to make the transition as easy as possible. Change was difficult for Hazel, especially when a greater use of technology was required. This had caused her stress in the past so in the lead up to the change I worked extensively with Hazel to try to ensure that she was comfortable. It appeared to me that she was, however, on the morning of the launch date she went on stress leave for an extended period of time.
The long road
Hazel returned to work but lodged another Workcover claim due to the stress caused by the change in her work. This resulted in her working part-time and claiming Workcover entitlements for the gap in income.
When her husband passed away she took limited time off, but was clearly deeply affected by it and seemed to be struggling with anxiety, insomnia and panic attacks.
Hazel continued to work part-time for a year, but even with reduced working hours she quite often wouldn’t come to work on the days she was rostered. This was made more difficult because she would only tell us that she wasn’t coming in at the time she was meant to arrive. This was very difficult for the whole team and I regularly had to ask the midwives to do administrative work.
She started emailing and messaging my personal mobile phone at all times of the day and night. I had to put my phone on silent as it became very disruptive. Over time I started to dread looking at my phone in the morning.
After 1 year of receiving Workcover payments, Hazel’s Workcover case was reviewed and she received payments for a few more months before she reached the legislative maximum and needed to go to conciliation as the next step.
Escalation of the situation
Before going to conciliation Hazel made a Freedom of Information request for her Workcover file. She strongly disagreed with some of the things stated in the file. Although I was not the only manager involved, perhaps because of the way these documents are redacted, she believed that I must have been responsible for any information in there that she believed was untrue or upsetting.
It was at this time that things escalated and the emails and messages sent to me became quite upsetting, and at times personal. She was spoken to about this and it got to the point where she was told not to email or message me. She persisted and eventually IT blocked her emails from my account and I blocked her number on my phone.
The end is near
Hazel’s case went to conciliation and it was agreed she would receive 1 more month of payments. It was also ruled that we could reclassify her position as a clerical role, which she could apply for, or she could take another role internally or take redundancy.
She ended up taking redundancy, although this was not without a lot of heartache and more stress in the process.
On the day she received her redundancy payment it really felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders; I went into my office and cried and played ‘I will survive’, 'Let it go’ and ‘Hallelujah’ on repeat and desperately hoped that no one would come into my office.
Not quite the end
Even after she was no longer employed by the hospital, we received some difficult correspondence from her that resulted in the organisation blocking her email address at the server. She was informed that while she could receive care from our hospital, she could not contact us otherwise.
Even this wasn’t the end - she found me on Facebook and sent me a nasty private message. I informed the hospital of this and they sought legal advice.
Along with blocking her, it was recommended that I take out an intervention order against her; however, this is not something that I pursued as I genuinely care for Hazel and think that this could have been a difficult experience for her.
I haven’t heard from Hazel for a while now, which is a relief, but I hope she is well.
Some time to reflect
Looking back at it now I realise what a toll this experience has had on me. I have an ongoing health condition that has flared up and while I can’t exactly pinpoint that it was this situation that caused it, it feels like there is a link.
I also wasn’t look after my body the way I usually do, I wasn’t sleeping well or exercising enough. Since then people have reflected on the fact that I looked stressed and tired through that difficult period and comment on how well I look now.
At some stages I started drinking a few glasses of wine each night to de-stress from the day. While it never got out of control, I ended up making a conscious decision to stop doing this. I can see how this may have become a crutch for me if I had let it, instead my partner and I established a bit of a ritual around having tea and reflecting on the day to let it all out instead.
My workplace was very supportive during the whole experience; my manager, human resources advisor, partner and employee assistance program were all great and helped me through. I think I was lucky as perhaps in another organisation I mightn’t have been supported as well, which could have led to further stress.
One of the most difficult things about the whole situation was that there were very few people I could speak to about it. I completely understand the need for discretion in a situation like this, but it can be very isolating being a manager and working your way through this type of situation. I welcome the introduction of Nurse & Midwife Support as it is potentially a service I would have accessed during this time. I hope it helps people who need support like I did.
What can I do next?
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