The Roman philosopher, statesman and lawyer Marcus Tullius Cicero famously said that if you are not afraid to think something, you should not be afraid to speak it. But would you tell the truth, even though doing so could cost you your job? Or would you partake in a conspiracy of silence, in your attempt to protect yourself? So far this year, two widely reported cases have illustrated the consequences of truth-telling at work. Here they are.
East Coast Trains
Honesty is not the best policy if you work for East Coast trains. Or they have never read the works of Cicero. Catering leader Mark Doughty had explained to his customers on the early morning Edinburgh-London route, that owing to a staff shortage and a broken boiler, the fry-up (assuming that’s what it was) they had ordered could not be served.
The customers would instead have to contend with heated-up paninis with either bacon or scrambled egg and tomato. The passengers found the alternatives served to them unacceptable and complained, leading to the worker’s explanation. East Coast management responded by serving the catering leader his notice for, allegedly, bringing the company into disrepute (i.e., telling the truth?). The worker’s union, the RMT are demanding his reinstatement. Interestingly, the passenger who first complained about the food was "horrified" to learn about the sacking, as reported in Edinburgh News, and commended the staff for the manner in which they had handled the protestations.
Part Time Doctors
A respected doctor, Professor Joseph Meirion Thomas, has come under attack for blaming the current shortage of family doctors on the “feminisation” of the GP service. Doctors have taken to social media, online petitions (one signatory assumed Professor Thomas was “not well”) and the Nationals to share their disgust and contempt for his “inflammatory” views. Yet he has been proven right. According to recent figures, there are 20,440 women GPs compared with 19,800 men - the number of female GPs has risen by 50 percent in the last ten years; however, more women are likely to work part time.
To cover for them, the NHS needs to recruit more than 3,000 GPs each year “just to stand still”. The NHS has described the shortage as “severe”. Indeed, the government’s own Migration Advisory Committee, the Committee that has the last word on whether there is a lack of supply in an occupation, has attributed the rising number of female GPS as a reason for the shortage. One GP has come under fire for highlighting an issue. The rise in women GPs has been hailed as a “triumph for gender equality” and a good thing for patients. Still, Dr Thomas has been denounced for having the wit to speak the truth; the same truth that has been corroborated by independent reports.
Dr Thomas, no doubt, loves his job. He also loves to speak the truth: two years ago, as reported in an article in the Spectator magazine, he spoke out about what he felt was the “abuse” of the NHS. He has written extensively about his views of the state of the NHS, clearly unafraid to challenge prevailing orthodoxies: in one article, he described doctors as “overrated”. But just as was the case with Mark Doughty, Thomas found himself out of a job as a result and ordered not to share his views with the public again. It is noteworthy that, in one damning report, “lack of candour” was cited as one of the most serious problems confronting the NHS today; so we have your classic case of “damned if you do; damned if you don’t”. What to do then?
Where are the much vaunted UK values of transparency, integrity, free speech and honesty? Why is priority given to protecting one’s reputation and image, regardless of the substance of arguments posed? What we have instead is meaningless effluvia from institutions that should know better: being hurt and upset or feeling indignant is no answer.
Would you tell the truth and risk your job? Your thoughts and comments below please...