Tuesday, October 16, 2012

EMPLOYERS MUST CONFRONT BULLIES

Show some respect - the grovelling is over

The last paragraph of this editorial is a beauty – worth repeating here:

    "The benefits of intervening earlier are perhaps clearest in the case of
the Canberra Institute of Technology. A team of seven ACT government
investigators are now examining 54 complaints of bullying at the CIT,
covering a period from the late 1990s to the present. While their findings
are yet to be made public, it is undeniable that, for far too long, the
perception of a harmful culture flourished at the agency. Its teachers,
staff and students - and Canberra taxpayers - are now paying the price for
the institute's failure to tackle the problem when it should have."

And here it is in full:


Employers must confront bullies
Canberra Times Editorial
October 4, 2012
http://www.canberratimes.com.au/opinion/editorial/employers-must-confront-bullies-20121003-26zzh.html


The public service has an undeniable, if unfair, image problem. There exists
a perception, boosted by the occasional high-profile legal case, that its
staff are too ready to file a harassment claim when they don't get on with
colleagues. The latest such case, made public at a hearing in August,
involved a fight between taxation office workers who argued over who should
be served first at a cafe. The stoush led to allegations of bullying, and a
compensation claim was eventually sent to the government's workplace health
insurer, Comcare.

Yet while cases like this may feed the perception that public servants are
especially frail, the evidence suggests such views are wrong. We focus on
government agencies simply because they tend to be subjected to greater
public scrutiny. Last year, the ACT's Worksafe Commissioner, Mark McCabe,
said his office spent far more time investigating alleged bullying in
Canberra's private sector workplaces, which he said were worse at dealing
with harassment issues. However, as far less data is collected about the
practices of businesses than of governments, the private sector escapes with
a comparatively untarnished reputation.

Indeed, the Public Service Commission's submission to the current federal
parliamentary inquiry into workplace bullying highlights just how few formal
allegations of harassment are made. Last financial year, across the entire
federal bureaucracy, only 210 employees were investigated for failing to
treat colleagues ''with respect and courtesy, and without harassment''. That
equates to fewer than one in every 750 public servants - and only three in
five of those allegations were found to be justified.

The ACT Commissioner for Public Administration's State of the Service
Report, meanwhile, noted an increase in the number of formal bullying
allegations in the ACT Public Service. Fifty-one claims were investigated in
2010-11 compared with just 20 two years earlier, though only a fraction of
these allegations were substantiated (11 and four respectively). We need to
keep in mind, however, that this report covers a workforce of almost 22,000
employees. Bullying receives much greater public attention than it once did,
but it's likely that most workers, and their workplaces, remain unaffected
by it.

Advertisement Nonetheless, while we might not be experiencing the epidemic
of bullying that some suggest, it's crucial that we increase our vigilance
against inappropriate workplace behaviour. In days past, too many instances
of genuine harassment were dismissed as a case of the victim needing to
''harden up''. The recent reports on unchecked abuse within our military
show how much suffering these attitudes cause for individuals; damage that,
in some cases, lasts a lifetime.

The Public Service Commission's survey of all federal bureaucrats last year
also suggested that as many as one in six staff felt they had been bullied
in the previous 12 months. Obviously, very few of these workers went on to
report their experience; rather, they said that they feared no action would
be taken, their career prospects would be damaged, or their relationships
with colleagues would be harmed. The only way to overcome this reluctance is
to talk more openly, and more often, about workplace harassment as a serious
offence, so as to reduce any stigma that remains attached to its victims.

The law in this area is also evolving, catching up with the growing
expectations on employers to protect their workers from unduly stressful
environments. The horrendous case of Victorian teenager Brodie Panlock - a
waitress who killed herself in 2006 after her colleagues subjected her to
relentlessly cruel bullying - sparked a rethink of workplace safety
legislation in most jurisdictions. And, earlier this year, the full bench of
the Federal Court found in favour of a Commonwealth Bank manager who had
tried to kill himself rather than face a meeting to discuss his branch's
performance. This ruling, which awarded the manager compensation for his
psychological injuries, reinforced the need for employers to make
individually tailored interventions to protect the mental health of their
staff; the excuse that ''we didn't know there was a problem'' no longer
holds water.

The benefits of intervening earlier are perhaps clearest in the case of the
Canberra Institute of Technology. A team of seven ACT government
investigators are now examining 54 complaints of bullying at the CIT,
covering a period from the late 1990s to the present. While their findings
are yet to be made public, it is undeniable that, for far too long, the
perception of a harmful culture flourished at the agency. Its teachers,
staff and students - and Canberra taxpayers - are now paying the price for
the institute's failure to tackle the problem when it should have.



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