‘Significant’ bullying in States, new report finds

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The independent report, which was only released following a freedom of information request, also found that employees described feeling ‘leper like’ once a complaint had been lodged, that there was a feeling of discouragement about making an allegation within many departments and that investigations were often ‘elongated’ and ‘inconsistent’.

Meanwhile, gossiping was flagged up as an issue, with the report citing that in some cases personal circumstances had been shared with people uninvolved in the complaint and it also noted a concern that the complaints procedure was inaccessible.

A total of 29 recommendations have now been made by the consultancy behind the £22,339 report – the HR Lounge Ltd – commissioned by the States Employment Board in October last year to review bullying and harassment within the States.

The States say they are working to implement recommendations from the report and have already completed some including providing support once a complaint is resolved.

Other recommendations include:

* Introducing new and regular training for managers.

* Redesigning case management systems so that there is an appropriate system to track cases.

* Establishing a confidential hotline for complainants.

* Launching a new witness support programme.

The States issued new guidelines and a revised code for dealing with bullying and harassment cases in July 2016 and, according to the 56-page report, a review of them is now considered ‘timely’.

Consultants Martin Tiplady and Evelyn Fearon, who wrote the report which was published in February, gathered evidence from about 200 employees – some of which was obtained through interviewing selected complainants and respondents, the HR team and trade union officials. They also conducted focus groups and invited all employees to make written submissions.

‘Our assessment is that you have a level of bullying and harassment complaints that is significant and requires attention,’ the report says. ‘We observed aspects of good and supportive management, though we were also struck by parts of your organisation where this was not the case.

‘We do not believe that the level of your bullying complaints is the result of a deliberate policy to encourage heavy-handed management but instead is the symptom of a style of leadership that exists in some parts of your organisation.’

The authors also established that there was a ‘significant fear factor’ and a ‘fear in making a complaint as it could be “career wrecking”.’ The report says: ‘We know that this is not a mood that is encouraged from the centre, quite to the contrary, but it is a strong emotion stated in every focus group when we heard tales of curtailed careers, demotions and heavy-handed management.’

The report also found that there was a low quality of investigation in many instances and that investigations took too long, with one case taking 17 months.

Concerns were also raised about the quality of record-keeping.

‘Apart from the inevitable issues of defence and the need to present good record keeping, we would have expected that the existence of good-quality records would help ensure longer-term change is secured and evaluated,’ the report says.

The report also noted that its fieldwork suggested there were ‘very few’ managers trained to handle bullying cases.

A States spokesman said: ‘We accept that there are improvements to be made and we are working to implement the recommendations from this report. Some work has already been completed – for instance, unwritten complaints are now accepted, cases are now closed formally, support continues to be provided after complaints are resolved and there is help available for line managers during demanding cases.

‘We will focus on early informal resolution and organisation-wide culture change, with managers expected to take responsibility for dealing swiftly with issues as they arise. Extra funds are being allocated to draft new policies and to ensure they are easy to use. Measures to prevent bullying and harassment will also be introduced as part of the culture change work, using the successful work done at Health and Social Services as an example of how change can be introduced.

‘A new whistleblowing policy and independent hotline will be established, and a new training programme and 14-day resolution process are being developed.’

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