Tom's story: the consequences of a poor line management relationship

Tom graduated in physiotherapy in the mid-1990s and had been successfully working as a physio for more than a decade. He was hard working and set high standards for himself, becoming an advanced practitioner.  

He had been working in an NHS hospital’s musculoskeletal department for eight years before he became ill. Things started to go wrong when a patient complained about the care Tom had delivered.

“I was shocked it hadn’t been brought to my attention. I wasn’t aware the complaint had been made. My view wasn’t submitted until three months after the complaint was made,” says Tom.

Bed-bound

Tom was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing after support from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. However, a lack of a good relationship from his line manager saw him become increasingly anxious about the allegations and how they were being handled.

“I had always been a diligent and empathetic practitioner. It was pretty shocking to get a complaint and it hit me quite hard,” explains Tom.

He became increasingly unwell: “It was difficult to do anything other than think about the case. I had severe anxiety. I felt hopeless, unsupported and I was catastrophising everything.”

Tom took 10 months’ sick leave and his depression became so bad that he couldn’t even motivate himself to get up. He was bed bound for three months, causing a huge worry for his wife and two young children.

Reception from colleagues

Tom needed to get his clinical confidence back and benefited from working on a ‘buddy’ basis with another physio.

But meeting patients was only one anxiety – another was meeting his colleagues.

“I wasn’t sure what had got around while I was off. It’s difficult, because it’s a confidential matter. People aren’t sure what to say. I’d heard one colleague had said I’d gone mad. 

“I had to make a decision whether to bring my illness out in the open conversations, although everyone knew I’d had depression and anxiety.”

The importance of the line management relationship

Tom’s story demonstrates the importance of a good line management relationship and how damaging a bad one can be.

He’s now back working – for himself – and puts that down to a good relationship with his union rep from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

“She was a voice for me when I was unable to go to meetings. She was very understanding and the support was immeasurable,” says Tom.

He cautions all employers to be mindful of the mental wellbeing of their staff:

“Mine is an extreme case but people at work are trying to juggle family life, concerns about their job, worrying about what colleagues may think.

“A single life stressor could kick things off and it can be the start of a lifelong mental health issue.”

"Tom" is a pseudonym to protect his identity. The full version of this article appeared in Frontline, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy magazine.