Four in 10 optical workers experience harassment, bullying or abuse

The GOC survey data also found that one in four optometrists and dispensing opticians have experienced discrimination in the past year

A hand holding a pen completes a survey form
Pixabay/Andreas Breitling
The latest General Optical Council (GOC) Registrant Workforce and Perceptions Survey 2023 has outlined experiences of bullying and discrimination within the optical workforce.

The online survey was completed by 3932 respondents between March and April 2023. Among those surveyed, 57% were optometrists, 23% dispensing opticians, and 20% were student optometrists or dispensing opticians.

The survey found that 41% of respondents had experienced harassment, bullying or abuse from patients in the past 12 months. Around one in five (18%) had experienced this behaviour from managers.

Approximately one in four (24%) of respondents had experienced discrimination from patients in the past 12 months.

Within the group that experienced discrimination, 44% reported that the discrimination related to race, 32% to sex and 20% to religion.

Across all respondents, 11% had experienced discrimination from managers and 8% had experienced discrimination from colleagues in the past year.

Across all questions relating to bullying, harassment, abuse and discrimination, respondents who were under the age of 35 and those with a disability were more likely to report negative treatment.

Comparison with NHS staff survey

The GOC survey found higher levels of bullying, harassment and abuse from patients and managers among the optical workforce than experienced by NHS staff.

The NHS Staff Survey 2022 found 28% of staff reported bullying, harassment and abuse from patients (compared to 41% of GOC respondents), while 11% of staff reported this behaviour from managers (compared to 18% of GOC respondents).

However, GOC respondents were less likely to experience this negative behaviour from colleagues – 16% reported bullying, harassment or abuse from colleagues in the GOC survey compared to 19% of NHS respondents.

Work satisfaction

More than half (62%) of respondents reported being happy in their role over the past year, while one in five (20%) said they were dissatisfied with their job.

The main reasons respondents reported for not feeling satisfied in a job were not feeling valued, heavy workloads, and poor salaries.

Close to four in 10 (37%) respondents reported not being able to cope with their workload, while 52% said they had worked beyond their hours.

GOC director of regulatory strategy, Steve Brooker, shared that while overall job satisfaction has remained stable, it is “deeply concerning” to see significant and largely unreported levels of bullying, harassment and abuse in the workplace.

“It is critical for public protection and patient care that registrants can work in supportive environments without fear of abuse,” he said.

“If unhealthy workplace cultures and disillusionment are forcing registrants out of the profession, this will add to workforce shortages and ultimately frustrate the sector’s ambitions to deliver more enhanced clinical eye care services in the community,” Brooker highlighted.

The GOC highlighted its guidance for speaking up when patient or public safety may be at risk.

AOP chief executive, Adam Sampson, described the findings of discrimination and abuse within the profession as “deeply troubling.”

“A stark reality revealed by our own research with members, and now reflected in this recent GOC survey, is that many eye care professionals are experiencing or witnessing abuse in daily practice,” he said.

“Optometrists and every member of the optical team should feel safe to work without having to face or worry about harassment and discrimination. It is clearly not an issue that is going away, and we continue to work hard to support and protect our members and take decisive action in this area. We have a duty of care, as do the employers in the sector, to address the problem for those who have or are currently experiencing discrimination at work, so these behaviours and cultures do not continue,” Sampson emphasised.