PPMA’s leading campaign for 2019/20 is #outoftheshadows. Bullying, harassment and victimisation is not new to public service sadly – however the reports are typically focused on individual cases. And those cases often have been going on for a very long time before they are reported on.
#outoftheshadows was conceived by conversations and issues our President, Karen Grave has been involved with over the last 6 months. A range of people in different parts of public service had approached her confidentially to talk about problems they were experiencing at work. And professional and personal friends were facing serious situations too. Karen and our Strategic Management Board decided that PPMA would bring a holistic approach to the issue – a case by case approach isn’t helping – it’s enabling the issue to remain hidden. You can hear an interview with Karen here where she shares more of the background to the programme.
This isn’t an easy issue to tackle. For a start, bullying doesn’t have a legal definition in employment law, but most everyone uses bullying interchangeably for situations that are sometimes harassment or victimisation. These issues mostly pertain to an individuals employment, but where there is a public interest consideration, we’re actually talking about whistleblowing. That brings specific legal protections.
It is also the case that many people who are accused of bullying may not be doing so. Public services have not always been effective at managing employees. And there are instances, sadly, of people claiming bullying when in fact a manager is appropriately managing an individuals performance. There are also plenty of instances too of a lack of leadership and management training, support for new managers, contributing to poor workplace conditions.
But overall, there is no question at all that there is a widespread awareness that bullying is a significant problem. More troubling, there is a cynicism and lack of belief that organisations will deal with it appropriately. This, of course, has been compounded by the use of settlement agreements which are perceived to – and actually do – keep people quiet.
You can make rational business cases as to why enabling cultures that support bullying, harassment and victimisation is bad business. However there is a more powerful and simple argument against it – it is morally wrong. Sometimes the simple argument is the most powerful. And arguably in public service it is the one that chimes most. Public servants in the main, come into the sector because of a passion for serving our fellow citizens. Knowing that bullying happens is especially disillusioning. It is also dangerous and a public health issue.
We have seen deaths directly attributed to bullying of public service employees. And disturbingly, we have seen bullying used to threaten colleagues who are trying to improve their organisations. The case of Mid Staffordshire (Mid Staffs) NHS Foundation Trust – which led to the Francis Review – is perhaps the most egregious recent example.
The impacts of bullying are therefore devastating and they impact people much more broadly that the person(s) targeted. Where they impact the delivery of services to our citizens, PPMA and the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) believe it to be a public health issue. Mid Staffs is a shocking and shaming example. Although numbers are disputed, between 400 and 1200 patients died due to poor care.
#outoftheshadows is a genuine attempt to take a strategic and cross public service approach to this problem. Before we share our objectives, we need to tackle an importance issue head on, and that is the role of HR & OD.
The role of HR is not always benign
One of the things we have heard over and over again from people reporting bullying, harassment or victimisation is that processes are cumbersome, people feel HR is often on the side of the employer and that HR won’t stand up to leaders when there are problems.
HR colleagues passionately tell us that whilst there are challenges with policy and process, they are often put under pressure to ‘close down’ complaints, that they don’t always have leadership buy in to invest in training and supporting leaders and managers and that culture is often neglected.
Leaders and managers often tell us that process and policy is complex, difficult to understand and that they often don’t feel equipped to manage people.
We in HR have to be honest about where we can make things better. But we must also collectively stand up, be courageous, speak truth to power and challenge our organisations when things are going wrong.
You can find out more about the campaign objectives, timeline and other supporting resources by following the links below.
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