There has been a deluge of reports coming out of Victoria in the last few months focusing on bullying and harassment.
The hair-raising antics of former Geelong Mayor Darryn Lyons are detailed in the parliamentary inquiry report released last week. Lyons is reported to have threatened, bullied and displayed other unacceptable behaviours towards staff.
He is not alone. Earlier in the month, the Auditor-General’s report on Bullying and Harassment in the Victorian Health Sector commented that the sector was unable to prevent or reduce inappropriate behaviour, including bullying and harassment. The report also found that key controls which could reduce the risk to employees were either “inadequately implemented, missing or poorly coordinated.”
In December 2015, the Independent review into sex discrimination and sexual harassment including predatory behaviour in Victoria Police report was released by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC). This report found an entrenched culture of what it called ‘everyday sexism’ and a high tolerance for sexual harassment giving rise to significant costs for the organisation.
What are the statistics?
According to the VEOHRC review, 40% of female employees had personally experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime (higher than the national average of 33%), and 20% had experienced sexual harassment in the police within the last five years.
Across the Victorian public sector, survey results show 25% of health agency employees and 25% of female police officers have reported being victims of bullying. But interrogating the figures shows significant increases in reports in certain employment groups. A study in 2014 by Monash University into bullying found that 40% of nurses had experienced bullying or harassment within the previous 12 months.
Similar figures were found in the Royal Australian College of Surgeons (RACS) report, with 39% of surgeons experiencing bullying, and 19% reporting having experienced harassment in the previous 12 months.
One perpetrator, multiple victims
While the studies found entrenched cultures that permitted bullying and harassment through lack of effective action, it is likely that affirmative action would have a profound positive effect on staff welfare. The inquiry into Victoria Police found that 52% of those who reported being sexually harassed were aware that others were also victimised, and in 81% of cases it was by the same perpetrators.
What the reports have in common
The studies found many similarities in the structural causes for the prevalence of inappropriate conduct. In particular, they all found there was:
- Widespread underreporting.
- Inadequacies in the response when matters were reported.
When participants were asked why they didn’t report, the two dominant reasons were:
- Belief that no action would be taken.
- Fear of retribution.
Other studies have found that:
- 67% of people who experience bullying and harassment do not report it.
- Of these, 53% don’t report because they believe that no action will be taken, and 42% believe that reporting will have a negative impact on their career (responders could tick more than one item).
- The RACS survey reported 44.9% of respondent’s feared repercussions, but this figure increased to a staggering 93.4% for 31 to 35-year-olds. Presumably this group is heading towards the end of a long and arduous qualifying period.
What can organisations do?
Changing the culture across a wide range of organisations is no easy task and will require a whole-of-business approach, and a variety of strategies to make a difference.
Having clear codes of conduct and policies on how to respond are necessary, but just having them is clearly not enough. Codes of Conduct must be known, used and acted upon.
It is the will to tackle bullying and harassment that is needed now, and this requires training and accountability on how to respond to complaints or conduct when it occurs.
The development of a clear procedure for responding and investigating complaints is an integral part of this process. Our flow chart on responding to complaints helps bring clarity where confusion lies. Download the free chart, and take a look at our Workplace Investigations Toolkit for expert advice and guidance on a procedure that won’t let you down and will support your managers in doing the right thing.
WISE Workplace also offers tailored training on all aspects of managing workplace behaviour, so whatever your organisation’s particular issue, give us a call and see how we can help make your workplace a better place.