Analysis: response to Christine Pratt’s involvement in Downing Street bullying row

Numerous HR chiefs contacted by Personnel Today have called for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) to investigate the National Bullying Helpline founder Christine Pratt after her decision to go public with bullying allegations made by Downing Street staff.

The CIPD has not ruled out investigating Pratt – a fellow member of the institute – but refused to comment further because any investigative processes must remain confidential.

Many HR professionals believe Pratt (pictured below) breached confidentiality and also the CIPD’s code of conduct, which specifically states that members should demonstrate appropriate behaviour in business and personal activities, and “must respect legitimate needs and requirements for confidentiality”.

Here is a round-up of some of the comments so far, in no particular order. Please add your own opinion by following the steps at the bottom of this story to comment.

HR feedback

“Confidentiality is one of the corner stones of our profession, and what appears to be a deliberate breach of this should be followed up. Like the General Medical Council, I think the CIPD should investigate this and ‘strike [Pratt] off’ if she is found to be guilty.”

Wendy Allardes, HR director, Cumbria Newspapers Group

“The CIPD should request to talk to Pratt and understand the rationale as to why she breached confidentiality. Given the high profile of the case, the CIPD should take a lead removing the [fellowship] status if the investigation merits it. The other non-execs have removed themselves from her company. If the CIPD investigation found her to be unprofessional, then this absolutely undermines the fellow membership. As a CIPD member, a press statement needs to be made to say that the CIPD is investigating the conduct. Wouldn’t the Financial Services Authority or accounting institutes do likewise?”

Marianne Macdonald, head of European HR, Babcock and Brown

“I have watched with dismay the interviews given by Christine Pratt and have to say that I’m horrified by her actions and breach of confidentiality. It will not do her organisation and indeed the personnel profession’s reputation any good. Therefore I do believe the CIPD should investigate this and depending on what it finds take action regarding her fellowship. It did come out in interviews that she was a member of the CIPD, and I would hate to think that people watching or listening thought we were all the same.”

Lesley Keenan, chief operating officer and deputy chief executive, Department of Health & Social Security (Isle of Man)

“Christine Pratt needs the opportunity to defend her actions and it should not be assumed that she has done anything wrong yet. But in general if professional chartered status is to mean anything, then there needs to be some sanction against members who breach the CIPD’s professional code. At the moment, it appears that members can act with professional immunity, and this must ultimately bring the standing of the CIPD and professional human resource management down.

“If we are truly to be a profession, then members who breach accepted standards need to be effectively sanctioned – what this entails is hard to quantify, but suspension or removal of the right to refer to oneself as a chartered professional would be a step. Unfortunately, I expect the CIPD to do little about this. They will issue a holding statement and ‘monitor’ progress, but I fear they do not see their role as that of upholding professional standards.”

Keith Luxon, chartered fellow CIPD, HR director, Veolia Water

“I believe that the CIPD should at least investigate this case and then come to some conclusion as to what would constitute a reasonable course of action, based on having carried out a full investigation. However, Pratt should not be singled out just because this is a high-profile case… The full facts need to be discovered and then dealt with appropriately.”

Neill Clark, vice-president European HR, APL

“I feel very strongly about this. I feel [Pratt] has breached confidentiality, and I feel that the CIPD should take action. In order to do this there will need to be some sort of investigation. If she will not go along with an investigation she should have her membership withdrawn. I feel she brings the profession into disrepute and therefore should not be a member. Bringing politics into this kind of situation is not acceptable.”

Jane Burtoft MCIPD, managing director, Jane Burtoft

“I suspect no great harm has been done… [Pratt] has made a mistake and as long as it is a one-off it should end there. If there is a repeat then it is the CIPD’s responsibility to maintain our professional standards and take appropriate action.”

Roy Mark, FCIPD, managing director, Total HRM

“The CIPD should investigate and act quickly on findings, but [Pratt] clearly appears to have over-stepped the mark by this breach.”

Dean Wilson, HR director, UTV Radio GB

“I was really interested to hear this story. In my view, Christine Pratt certainly made the wrong decision to release this information. Since Christine is a fellow of the CIPD, she is a role model to others. Students and junior HR professionals should be able to view fellow CIPD members in high esteem and see these individuals as experts in their field. Actions such as this are not synonymous with chartered professional status at fellowship level.”

HR director

“I believe that the CIPD has an obligation to at least investigate the matter… I believe that they should investigate under the terms of reference for fellowship.”

Steve Hutchins, group HR director Europe, Elavon

“I think the CIPD should investigate her behaviour, and make a decision on her membership based upon the findings. It is too high profile to ignore.”

Caroline Foster, HR director, Genting Stanley

“I feel very strongly that Pratt has breached confidentiality in speaking out, and I think this has done damage to the cause she supports where individuals may feel hesitant contacting such organisations in the future. There remain unanswered questions… and based on this, I feel there is just reason to consider the fellow membership level undermined and compromised, and I would suggest she no longer deserves to hold this membership.”

HR director

“Of course the CIPD should instigate but not conduct a full independent inquiry. That way you may get appropriate recommendations and remedial actions. Any action against [Pratt] should naturally take place after a full investigation of all salient facts. I have to say that prima facie her prospects do not look good as a breach of trust is near the top of HR failure.

“Regrettably all of the above is academic. I have little confidence that the CIPD would take appropriate steps to reinforce their credibility by removing members who have clearly brought the institute into disrepute.”

Roddy Teague, HR manager, Novelis

“Christine Pratt has done a great deal to raise the profile of workplace bullying. We will all have a view about whether her statement was or was not a good call, but we need to keep this in perspective. In other disciplines this would be a matter for professional standards, and I think this would be a good approach for the CIPD.”

Linda Scott, HR director, British Transport Police

“I believe all professional bodies must have a code of ethics that members must adhere to and that there are sanctions for breaching. The CIPD does not have such a formal arrangement and perhaps it is time to introduce one, so that we are able to manage members of the HR profession appropriately.

“I think this is a natural extension of the continuing professional standing that the CIPD has developed with chartered status. I am not sure if what Christine Pratt did could be considered ‘whistle blowing’ or in the public interest as a defence. However, this would be able to be debated and ruled on by the CIPD as part of a proper investigation. Ultimately, if the CIPD believe she has breached the current expectations of a fellow, she should no longer be entitled to that status.”

Noel McGonigle, group HR director, Azzurri Communications

“Well I guess [Pratt] might say that she has raised the profile of the issue without identifying individuals and if bullying has gone on that might be productive. But of course she should not have breached confidentiality, and not only has she let down those who have confided in her service, she might well make things worse.

“As for drumming her out of the CIPD – I don’t even know whether there is a process for such action, but any professional body surely needs at least to consider whether members bring it into disrepute?”

Linda Maughan, HR director, Middlesbrough Borough Council

“I don’t know the ins and outs of this situation and I doubt many other people do either. However, I would just ask this: Is it possible that as a result of Pratt feeling it necessary to raise an important issue of public interest, she has been bombarded by the full weight of the national media and the political apparatus seeking to discredit her in order to distract attention from what could be an important issue? Within hours of this story breaking, even the former deputy prime minister John Prescott was tweeting web links to employment tribunal proceedings allegedly involving Pratt.

“Let’s not be too hasty to judge. If Pratt is a member of the CIPD, and if the CIPD believes there is a case to answer, then the matter should be dealt with calmly and quietly, and not under the spotlight of self-seeking, ill-informed people clamouring to join in the feeding frenzy and ‘baying for her blood’.”

HR professional

“It does appear that this was politically motivated, albeit [Pratt] has claimed it was not. The potential consequences for those who have trusted her organisation with their burdens and concerns cannot be ignored. The CIPD received ‘chartered’ status for a reason, and the membership of those who breach its philosophies and principles should be at risk.”

Jackie Lowe, HR director, beCogent

“Yes I think it should be investigated. Depending on the outcome, membership should be withdrawn – publicly. I expect the CIPD should investigate and deal with this professionally.”

Elaine Bird, global HR director, EDS

“In my view the CIPD should not embroil itself in the tawdry aftermath of ‘Bullygate’ launched by this woman. Instead maybe it could toughen up the rules on becoming a fellow of our institute, and continue to do what it can to turn back the tide on this claim and victim culture we are developing.”

Adrian Farley, HR director, Strategic Thought

“I’m not clear, precisely, what Christine Pratt actually said. She did not reveal any complainants’ identities to the best of my knowledge. Why is revealing that there is alleged bullying at 10 Downing Street (by any members of government or Civil Service) a breach of confidence? There’s nothing confidential about that, it’s in the public interest to know about it… However, I don’t really think the CIPD should be ‘investigating the matter’ – what for? People fail to observe best practice and may well ‘breach confidences’ every day for a variety of reasons for all I know – what’s any of that got to do with the CIPD, exactly? Perhaps they could engage Mossad to examine it further? As to her continued membership, well, quite frankly, that is entirely a matter between her and the CIPD, and absolutely nothing to do with me or anybody else. I neither know nor care.”

Mick Leafe, MCIPD, HR director, Nottingham City Transport

“I don’t see how the CIPD should be expected to investigate the matter. Has she brought disrepute to her profession? I don’t believe so, just herself. Did she hold senior office within the CIPD? No, so what’s the issue? If she has a [supermarket] clubcard and that is known, should the [supermarket] take it from her? It would make the story bigger if some bureaucratic organisation, the CIPD, took the high ground and rescinded her fellow membership, best forget her. What do I expect the CIPD to do? Absolutely nothing.”

Stuart McLean, group HR director, Incisive Media

“I do believe that this should be investigated – although [Pratt] did not disclose names, it puts all the staff working in Downing Street in a tenuous position, particularly the junior members of staff. Her entitlement [to keep CIPD membership] should be determined by the results of the investigation. I do not think this undermines the fellow membership level regardless of what the experts say. This is a single issue, which is pretty unique due to the forthcoming elections, so this should not result in a reputational risk. The CIPD should put out a statement confirming [its] commitment to the spirit and letter of the terms of membership and that [it] intends to investigate this matter and will endeavour to let [Personnel Today] readers know the results.”

Mary Foulkes, HR director, East London NHS Foundation Trust

“Christine Pratt runs an anti-bullying charity and was ‘leading from the front’ on this issue. She didn’t breach confidentiality – ie, give names – but simply confirmed that the problem first revealed by Andrew Rawnsley in his book (currently being serialised by the Observernewspaper) actually exists.

“The fact that the New Labour smear/spin machine has unleashed its fury on her would seem to be evidence enough that the bullying culture exists at Number 10; dissent is clearly not permitted. The CIPD can investigate her by all means. If they do, they should be even-handed and also investigate the HR executives responsible for people issues in Downing Street.”

Jerry Hayter, managing partner, Xecutive Search HR

“I feel that after investigation, had this been a complex breach of ethics, then perhaps Pratt could have dredged up some excuse for her actions. However, she has breached what is the mainstay of our profession – ie, confidentiality – and as such I would certainly advocate not only her fellow status, but her CIPD membership being removed. I do believe that her behaviour has damaged the status of ‘fellow’ (intended to demonstrate the holder has attained the highest standard of HR expertise), yet she commits the ultimate betrayal to her clients.

“The solution to this high-profile case is to show to everyone both in and outside the HR profession, that chartered status is taken seriously and that serious breaches are dealt with seriously. We have a difficult enough task portraying our profession without allowing imposters like this to carry on with impunity.”

Eric Sandison, head of HR, Chap group

“I was extremely concerned about these events as it seemed to me that confidentiality has been seriously breached, especially when the employment group from where the complaints came from is likely to be very small and the implications so far reaching. I do believe that the CIPD should make a stand and look into this matter. As a senior HR professional, I am clear about the boundaries of confidentiality, and this does seem to have crossed the line. Of course Christine should have the opportunity to state her case and reasons for her actions.”

HR director

“I don’t think the CIPD can be held responsible or accountable for the actions of its members. This incident may, however, be seen more to reflect on the professionalism of its members. Christine Pratt did not break any rules of the CIPD. Rather what she did do was breach the implicit terms, or possibly implied terms, of confidentiality in her role, which is an internal matter for the National Bullying Helpline, and not the CIPD. So on this occasion, I cannot see what if anything the CIPD can do. It does beg the question as to what true professionalism the CIPD stands for.”

HR director

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