Archive for January, 2013
“Nature’ has published the following article in relation to complaints of ongoing bullying within CSIRO. A couple of interesting things to note about the Article:
* CSIRO admits there are problems! This despite CSIRO CEO Dr Megan Clarke swearing until she was blue in the face in both the national media and in front of senators that CSIRO did not have a problem with workplace bullying.
* Chairman of the CSIRO board, Mr Simon McKeon states that “one case of bullying is one too many”, yet the CSIRO board have done nothing about the allegations that have been raised with it directly including those of a serious criminal nature as well as allegations involving the victimisation and termination of whistle-blowers.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency, may face further scrutiny into accusations of bullying and harassment of scientists and other employees, even after taking steps to address the issue as required by a regulator.
Accusations of bullying have swirled around the CSIRO in recent years. In 2011, the federal workplace authority, Comcare, began looking into complaints made by a former employee from the CSIRO ecosystem sciences division. Although the review found “no evidence of system deficiencies or a culture within CSIRO… that enabled or promoted bullying-type behaviour”, it did identify a number of specific concerns about the way the situation was handled.
Comcare instructed the CSIRO — which employs more than 6,500 people, more than 4,000 of whom are directly involved in research — to improve its systems for managing cases of alleged bullying, setting a deadline of 31 December 2012 for compliance with a set of directions.
In response, the CSIRO updated a number of procedures and policies, and put more than 5,300 staff members through training. In addition, 70 senior managers received separate training on the requirements for dealing with alleged bullying and harassment.
Comcare spokesman Russ Street told Nature that the CSIRO had responded comprehensively to its requirements. Although the regulator is still reviewing the agency’s actions, Street says: “The organisation has been very cooperative to date and we would expect a positive outcome.”
However, a group of former CSIRO employees calling themselves Victims of Bullying, Harassment, and Victimisation in the CSIRO say that the CSIRO’s actions do not go far enough.
Formed in mid-2011, the group has received more than 100 complaints (not seen by Nature), some involving accusations of multiple instances of bullying, according to Andrew Hooley, a former CSIRO project manager and spokesman for the group.
Hooley, who served as a health and safety representative for much of his time in the CSIRO between June 2002 and February 2011, says that he had become a target for bullying after he questioned the probity surrounding a procurement decision.
Hooley says that since the CSIRO’s compliance actions, the victims group has “already [received] communications from current employees of the CSIRO stating that in some cases the incidence and severity of bullying has escalated after the mandatory bullying training that staff are required to undertake.”
CSIRO says it won’t comment on individual cases. Its management admits that the agency has had problems, but says that CSIRO is dealing with them. “The organisation has worked closely with Comcare to ensure that we are taking all possible steps to create and maintain the best possible working environment,” says Craig Roy, CSIRO’s deputy chief executive responsible for human resources.
On the positive side, Roy also says that the agency’s staff has a low voluntary-turnover rate, of around 3.5% a year, and that the latest staff survey, in March 2012, showed that 87% were proud to be associated with the CSIRO.
In a statement, CSIRO board chairman Simon McKeon told Nature: “One case of bullying is one case too many, and the board and management of the CSIRO are committed to fostering an environment that is productive, free from bullying and harassment and where individuals and teams can reach their full potential.”
Michael Borgas, president of the CSIRO staff association, says that the organisation is, by and large, a healthy one, but that he is worried that the bullying issue has damaged the CSIRO’s reputation internationally and made researchers overseas think twice about going to work there.
It seems unlikely that the spotlight is going to shift away from the bullying accusations any time soon. In late 2012, Australian parliament member Sophie Mirabella wrote to science minister Chris Evans calling for an urgent inquiry into bullying at CSIRO.
A spokesperson for Evans says that the letter has been referred to the department of industry, innovation, science, research and tertiary education “to determine whether there is any new information or action required”.
“We will work with the department and with the minister in providing any information they need to make a call on what steps come next,” Roy says.
Any interview conducted by Mike Welsh from Radio 2CC with Shadow Minister and Opposition Spokesperson for Science, Sophie Mirabella yesterday has been podcast on Radio 2CC’s website. The full interview can be heard at the following location”
Some of the salient points:
– The Shadow Minister’s office has independently received somewhere in the area of 80 separate complaints of bullying relating to the CSIRO.
Even without considering the complaints raised through other channels (advocacy groups, unions, tribunals, internal complaints handling processes etc.), this is an alarming number.
– The CSIRO is anomalous in the sheer volume and seriousness of complaints raised in comparison to other Federal Agencies.
– The issuing of Improvement Notices by Comcare absolutely indicates problems with CSIRO’s workplace culture.
– An inquiry needs to be conducted into the allegations.
– The CSIRO’s international reputation is at stake and will be tarnished if something is not done to clean up the organisation and address workplace culture.
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Minister Chris Evans has finally responded to requests from Canberra Radio 2CC’s Mike Welsh for an interview over bullying allegations haunting CSIRO.
Sadly, much like Dr Michael Borgas, President of the CSIRO Staff Association, in his interview with Mike Welsh on 5 December 2012, Minister Evans’ game plan was to consistently downplay and dismiss the true state of affairs at CSIRO.
Minister Evans did not accept there is a toxic workplace culture at CSIRO, he suggested that the suicide claims made by Victims of CSIRO are over-dramatised, that some complainants had pre-existing medical conditions and that many have been stressed by restructuring or discipline for misconduct. Minister Evans did not provide one shred of evidence to support these serious and demeaning statements, which we can only think were informed by a brief provided to him by senior CSIRO Public Relations staff, as independent research, including ComCare’s rulings, would have indicated otherwise. The minister’s blanket dismissals set him diagonally opposite the merits of his own cabinet’s recently concluded Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying.
Suggesting that claims of suicidal CSIRO employees have been sensationalised is absolutely appalling. Victims of CSIRO are aware of at least 5 cases of current and former employees contemplating suicide as a result of mistreatment in CSIRO (this includes through providing direct support as former staff association representatives). It can be extremely difficult for individuals to admit being suicidal, so it is gravely disappointing that these individuals’ courage in speaking up for change has been so blithely dismissed.
Again, we strongly refute Minister Evans’ insinuation that many of the complaints of workplace bullying raised against CSIRO have resulted from employees facing genuine disciplinary actions or legitimate redundancy processes brought about by organisational restructure (and we note that the reasons for organisational restructure were not put forward by Minister Evans).
You can just see from Jack Hoffman’s case of being sacked by CSIRO for purchasing a Big Mac, and Dr Maarten Stapper’s case of being made redundant by CSIRO after making public criticisms of genetically modified crops, that Minister Evans’ claims are dubious. It was admitted in Questions on Notice(BI-145) by CSIRO on 27/07/2012 that in all cases in which an employee used the internal whistleblower process, termination of their employment followed.
This is bullying and victimisation for speaking out, veiled behind policies, procedures and claimed operational needs. Interestingly, in all cases in which misconduct was alleged by whistleblowers, those accused of misconduct retained their positions.
We should all be concerned about Minister Evans’ refusal to accept that CSIRO has a toxic workplace culture. Victims of CSIRO are aware of over 100 cases of workplace mistreatment, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers are currently representing 12 CSIRO victims and there are many others who are currently taking individual legal action or contemplating it. On top of this, Comcare has issued an Order of Improvement to CSIRO (an action rarely seen for claims of workplace bullying). The numbers clearly paint the picture – CSIRO unequivocally has a toxic workplace culture! Minister Evans just does not want to admit it, and understandably so, particularly given this is an election year.
On a final note, we are highly concerned that Minister Evans’ benchmark for determining whether workplace bullying has occurred in CSIRO is to await the findings of costly court action taken by former CSIRO employees. Minister Evans should know that the majority of workplace bullying cases never make it to the courts, as most victims do not have the financial and knowledge resources to match the Commonwealth’s resources and no longer have the emotional fortitude to seek justice through the judicial system. Particularly given CSIRO’s ruthlessness in litigation, who would want to put themselves through further trauma? Take for example the case of Dr Sylwester Chyb. During his employment, CSIRO accused him of credit card fraud and brought in an independent investigator. The investigator found Dr Chyb’s signature was forged and recommended the case be reported to the Australian Federal Police. CSIRO did not action this recommendation and, instead, brought up the same allegation in Dr Chyb’s court action in an attempt to muddy the waters. This is true victimisation and a breach of the Commonwealth Model Litigant Rules. The unsustainable allegation has now been dropped by CSIRO.
Even if the courts were to find in favour of CSIRO victims, no doubt the Commonwealth, through Minister Evans, will be quick to appeal the decision. In essence, the courts do not provide a level playing field for victims when it comes to the Commonwealth being a respondent, nor are the courts an appropriate forum for those seeking healing for trauma.
What is needed, as Shadow Minister Sophie Mirabella has called for, is an inquiry – this is where the state of culture and practice within CSIRO will most likely be formally established, not in individual court cases.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
Improvement Notices issued to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) have not only failed to address the rampant culture of workplace bullying but also backfired against new complainants.
Since issuing an updated Improvement Notice, Comcare, the Federal Health and Safety regulator has received a number of complaints from CSIRO employees reporting allegations of serious bullying.
In one such case, an employee contacted Comcare to report that the bullying behaviour which the employee was experiencing had actually escalated subsequent to that employee’s supervisor undertaking the Bullying eLearning Module which has been much lauded by the CSIRO’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr Megan Clark.
Victims of CSIRO have identified breaches of the Improvement Notice in the following manners:
1. Failure to notify Comcare of new bullying allegations:
In at least two separate cases in the last few weeks, CSIRO have failed to meet its obligations under the Improvement Notice by failing to report allegations of bullying which were reported as high up as the CEO herself. Not only this, the CSIRO has failed to act swiftly in addressing the allegations and protecting vulnerable employees, some who it is alleged are being coerced into signing false statements against injured employees in further acts of bullying and victimisation.
2. Failure to display Improvement Notices
CSIRO has failed to display the most recent iteration of Improvement Notice throughout its workplace despite being applicable to the entire organisation. Thus far, the CSIRO have only displayed the notice in its Entomology (now Ecosystem Sciences) division at Black Mountain in accordance with the initial Improvement Notice.
What has the response of Comcare been to these complaints?
To date Comcare have failed to sanction CSIRO in any way, shape or form over these breaches indicating that it has no intention of holding CSIRO to its obligations under the most recent Improvement Notice.
Furthermore, Comcare have notified at least one complainant that they are not prepared to investigate any further notified acts of bullying in direct contradiction of the public statement made by Comcare CEO, Mr Paul O’Connor in which he stated that Comcare would investigate any new allegations brought to their attention. Comcare have thus far failed to fully investigate any of the 12 complaints of bullying submitted through Maurice Blackburn Lawyers and have stated that they have no intention of addressing these complaints individually.
In relation to this matter, Comcare advised one former employee that it had no power to act in relation to the employee’s complaint despite the employee having suffered a permanent injury, significant financial disadvantage, and even the admission of CSIRO having failed in its duties under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act to provide appropriate rehabilitation to the injured employee both prior to and subsequent to that employees termination by the CSIRO. The former employee’s doctor has been scathing of the CSIRO’s poor performance stating that the medical professional has only once been contacted by CSIRO over a 5 year period in relation to that employee’s injury and rehabilitation requirements. Both the former employees doctor and a medical assessor engaged by Comcare itself have stated that the former employees future prognosis has deteriorated significantly as a result of the CSIRO’s failure to intervene and provide rehabilitation support and that the best prognosis the former employee can expect is to experience no further degradation in psychological function despite an already significant permanent impairment.
Despite the enormity of this problem within the CSIRO, not one single CSIRO employee has been charged in relation to serious breaches under the Work Health and Safety Act, its predecessor or for the failure of the organisation to meet its obligations to injured employees under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act.
How can anyone seriously expect any form of meaningful change to occur when regulators such as Comcare fail to act?Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
The following article was posted recently on news.com.au. Comcare has recorded the first ever loss to its insurance scheme with a 2011-2012 deficit of close to half a billion dollars. It is unsurprising that approximately half of all psychological injury claims relate to workplace bullying.. It is quite interesting to note that nowhere in the article does Comcare accept responsibility in any part from the result, instead preferring to suggest that a major factor is the increasing length of time (read expense) in rehabilitating injured employees.
Drat those injured employees! Why can’t they just be less…..well, injured?
Some of the reasons not disclosed in the article also having a significant impact on the spike in insurance premiums experienced by the scheme include:
– Comcare’s aggressive and argumentative attitude towards injured federal employees who seek the assistance.
How many cases have needlessly been escalated to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal where it is reasonable foreseen that Comcare bears liability? How much money does Comcare spend on legal representation during these proceedings. One would suggest in a number of cases that it would significantly exceed Comcare’s immediate liability.
– Comcare’s failure to take a strong stance on workplace bullying
How many organisations has Comcare prosecuted in relation to endemic workplace bullying cultures? If there are no ramifications for poor behaviour then there is absolutely zero impetus to change that behaviour. Comcare have been aware of the allegations of systemic bullying within the CSIRO for more than a decade and short of issuing a piece of paper that will be ignored (as we have already witnessed), have done nothing t0 address the toxic workplace culture of many of its scheme members. Comcare have consistently ignored complaints for far too long using the flimsy excuse that “xxx has policies for that”. It has been identified that CSIRO has failed to properly and equitably implement its own workplace policies resulting in the issuing of Improvement Notices and despite this, our members continue to report that even as recently as a week ago, their complaints have been dismissed with much the same response. At least give us the benefit of coming up with some new excuses for why you will still not investigate allegations of workplace bullying, particularly after you have publicly admitted that the CSIRO had inadequate policies to deal with workplace bullying issues after spending years turning away countless complaints based upon this flimsy excuse.
– Comcare’s failure to ensure rehabilitation is properly conducted
Despite identifying failures of its scheme contributors to properly rehabilitate injured workers, Comcare have failed to address these shortcomings. It is unsurprising that the cost of rehabilitation is sky-rocketing. One of our members reports that Comcare ignored their complaints for over 4 years about the injured workers employee failing to provide adequate rehabilitation and are demanding to know why the injured worker will never return to pre-injury capacity.
It doesn’t take a genius to understand that a) if workplace bullying remains unaddressed, and b) the proper support is not provided to victims of workplace bullying then c) the cost of rehabilitation of injured employees is going to skyrocket. It is also highly reprehensible to suggest that a greater number of employees “jumping on the bandwagon” and submitting psychological stress claims is the main reason for a spike in premiums. Drat those injured workers!
Comcare may also care to address the adversarial hoops through which injured workers must jump in order to have their claims legitimised. In all too many cases the injury sustained as a result of having to endure the humiliating Comcare processes is far greater than the initial injury sustained.
COMPENSATION costs for stressed and injured federal public servants have doubled in a year to nearly $1 billion.
Comcare, the Federal Government’s workplace compensation insurer, has recorded its first loss, a $564 million for 2011-12.
It blames the blow-out on a surge in claims and public servants “not recovering as quickly as they should”.
The effect of lower interest rates on earnings and higher forecasts for inflation also contributed.
Comcare has been dealing with a rash of controversial compo claims, many for bullying and “adjustment disorder”, a type of psychological injury due to work-related stress.
It will announce today its High Court appeal against a Federal Court order that it pay compensation to a public servant injured during sex in her motel room while on a business trip.
The case will set a national legal precedent, drawing the line between injuries sustained at work and in private.
Comcare’s latest annual report reveals the cost of ongoing workers’ compensation claims soared from $459 million in 2011 to $994 million last year.
The government-owned agency will increase premiums by 25 per cent this year to try to claw back the $564 million loss.
Comcare’s acting chief executive, Cathy Skippington, said yesterday the record $994 million expense included the “estimated future costs of claims or liabilities”.
“These increased due to economic factors and because some injured workers are taking longer to get back to work,” she said.
“As a result, we’ve had to increase our scheme premium rates substantially to return the scheme, over time, to a fully funded position.”
A Comcare spokesman said the operating loss would have “no fiscal or cash impact on the Government’s Budget”.
But government departments and agencies will have to find the money to pay higher premiums for their workers’ compensation coverage, which has jumped to 1.77 per cent of payroll costs this financial year.
Ms Skippington said Comcare had dealt with a “moderate increase” in mental health claims during 2012.
“People are much more aware of bullying now and the fact they don’t have to put up with it,” she said.
Mental health claims made up 8 per cent of Comcare claims during 2011-12, with bullying accounting for nearly half the mental stress cases.
Three in every four claims related to “body stressing”, with 15 per cent caused by slips, trips and falls.
Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten has ordered a review of the government’s snowballing Comcare scheme.
The following assessment of the 2CC Mike Welsh interview with Dr Michael Borgas from the CSIRO Staff Association was posted recently on the APS Ozloop site by APS Dignity (www.apsbullying.com). The feedback we have received to date would suggest that there has been a considerable backlash over a number of comments made during the interview. It is also quite interesting to note that the recent blog posted by the CSIRO Staff Association on its own website, is to date, the only posting to have comments disabled. This seems a little incongruous given the importance of dialogue on the issue and the Staff Association’s previous stance on the gagging of its own members.
As always, we are happy to work with the Staff Association on addressing this most serious of workplace matters.
A word of wisdom to the Staff Association. Your members have been asking you to address the issue of workplace bullying within the CSIRO for a considerable period of time. Perhaps it would be a good time to start listening to them!
Can you tell the difference between CPSU spin and CSIRO Human Resources spin?
In answer to that question, we can’t… except perhaps that CSIRO’s Human Resources personnel are probably a bit more skilled at it than the CPSU in terms of being able to fake some public sympathy for victims of workplace bullying.
In a recent radio interview on Canberra’s 2CC radio station, the President of the CSIRO Staff Association (a section of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU)), Dr Michael Borgas, was questioned about the toxic workplace culture that has been allowed to pervade the CSIRO over the past decade. The culture has resulted in victims neglected by the CPSU forming a support and advocacy group called Victims of CSIRO (with its own website), which is aware of over 80 cases of workplace abuse.
Dr Borgas was interviewed by the switched-on Mike Welsh, and it made for both compelling listening (in terms of Mr Welsh’s sharp interviewing skills) and cringe-worthy listening (in terms of Dr Borgas’s apparent lack of preparation and persistent weasel responses). A link to the radio interview can be found here.
What came out of the interview was essentially the following:
- Dr Borgas went from admitting that the CSIRO has a toxic workplace culture, then to watering-down the significance of this fact by claiming toxicity was a common feature of all workplaces, to then claim that toxicity in the CSIRO is ‘rare’ and ‘at the margins’. Mr Welsh astutely pointed out Dr Borgas’s contradictions and noted that Comcare’s recent official order to the CSIRO to protect its staff against psychological injuries caused by bullying would suggest the problem is systemic and longstanding.
- Dr Borgas stated he has been the President of the CSIRO Staff Association for 10 years. Mr Welsh asked if the CSIRO culture had gotten worse under his tenure to which Dr Borgas admitted that nothing had changed during his tenure, thereby inadvertently indicating that workplace bullying in the CSIRO has been a problem for greater than a decade. Dr Borgas then contradicted himself again by stating that the situation is actually improving in the CSIRO.
- Dr Borgas seemed to attempt to diminish the significance and credibility of the Victims of CSIRO group, referring to their website as a ‘new phenomenon’ and that it was only dealing with ‘handfuls of cases’. Mr Welsh then questioned Dr Borgas about his actual knowledge of the number of cases known to Victims of CSIRO, to which Dr Borgas had to admit his ignorance.
Other issues that came out of the interview was that the CSIRO Staff Association had not been keeping statistics on numbers of complaints, and the CSIRO Staff Association appeared to be taking a soft stance on workplace bullying and was siding more with management. In the end, Mr Welsh concluded that it seemed that Dr Borgas had not been doing his job properly.
It was apparent to us that Dr Borgas was downplaying the issue of workplace bullying in the CSIRO to compensate for the CSIRO Staff Association’s failure to effectively address the problem over the past decade. Furthermore, it is our view that Dr Borgas’s substandard performance in the interview was an embarrassment. If Dr Borgas is the best talent that the CSIRO Staff Association has, then we wonder what this says about the people working under him.
Perhaps members of the CSIRO Staff Association should consider withdrawing their membership and joining the Victims of CSIRO group instead, which seems to be a far more professional and powerful voice for targets of workplace abuse in the CSIRO.
In a recent decision handed down by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Deputy President J W Constance in relation to a compensation claim lodged by a former CSIRO employee, the Deputy President deemed the evidence of two CSIRO employees, (one of them a Senior Executive) to be unreliable.
In relation to evidence provided by Group Business Development Director, Mr Damien Thomas, the Deputy President stated:
“I am not satisfied that Mr Thomas was a reliable witness. His memory of the events of the time was poor and at times he was evasive in the answers he gave. Where his evidence conflicted with that given by Mr Williams I prefer the evidence of Mr Williams.”
The Deputy President determined that an email sent by Mr Thomas on the 16th of September 2008 was “deliberately false in a number of respects…”
Of CSIRO Group Executive, Dr Callum Drummond, the Deputy President made the following statement:
“Taking into account the evidence of Mr Williams, Mr Head, Ms Currie and Dr Morton relating to the circumstances of Mr Head being told that he would have a position in the merged Division I am not satisfied that Dr Drummond was a reliable witness and I do not make any findings of fact based on his evidence.”
Also of specific note in the case was evidence submitted of a communication (via email) from CSIRO People & Culture (HR) stating that assistance was needed as a result of Dr Drummond not following appropriate procedures.
The Deputy President also challenged the evidence of CSIRO Executive Director, Mr Nigel Poole, forcing Mr Poole to concede that he was not in a position to be providing the evidence he had previously submitted during examination.
It is great to see members of the judiciary challenging the usual spin of CSIRO rather than swallowing the broad, grandiose statements hook, line and sinker like so many of those currently in senior government and public service positions.
Surely the conduct of these individuals in appearing before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal should provide more than enough justification for initiating proceedings of misconduct as these individuals have brought the organisation so publicly into disrepute.
The proceedings also again highlight the lack of consistency in CSIRO application of its own policies, in particular the organisation’s recruitment processes where it strongly appears not to be a level playing field and in the willingness of senior CSIRO officers to willingly provide false statement.
Again we question how reasonably CSIRO can affect the change required by Comcare in recently issued Improvement Notices where such a level of crony-ism is on public display. Victims of CSIRO has already started receiving complaints of breaches relating to the Improvement Notice. More to follow…
The full determination of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal case referenced in this posting can be found at the following location:Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
Below is an interesting opinion piece posted in the Canberra Times by Elizabeth Boulton.
We whole-heartedly agree with the statements of Elizabeth Boulton in this piece. In fact a number of the previous comments on this website suggest that this is a problem within scientific institutions such as the CSIRO. A large IQ or extremely indepth knowledge of a particular subject matter does immediately convey leadership qualities on those individuals. In fact many stories received relate to bullying behaviours from Team Leaders/Supervisors who themselves were researchers but a short time ago who have often been thrust into situations well outside their skills sets and comfort zones and have inadvertently become bullies because they have never received any form of meaningful instruction on how to develop leadership skills. This takes time and practice and a lot of support for the person undertaking the leadership role. When ill-prepared people are placed into a situation of great stress in what to them is a completely alien context, human nature kicks in. Whilst not an excuse for unconscionable behaviour, it demonstrates that the real problem lies higher up the management chain, who are supposed to possess these skills.
What does this say about the Senior Executive Management Team of the CSIRO, when the CEO vows publicly to address inappropriate conduct within the organisation for which she is responsible and then proceeds to tacitly support those within her own executive who are known serial offenders, despite having the skills and knowledge and the expectation of staff to be able to act appropriately and fairly. What does the fact that Dr Clark speaks publicly about addressing the issue, yet behind closed doors challenging the validity of the claims of those who have been permanently scared as result of unchecked damaging behaviour.
What does this say about Dr Clark’s own moral compass and fitness to lead?
Bullying and poor management stem from inadequate training – and the army can show the way, writes Elizabeth Boulton
- December 31, 2012
Bullying and poor management stem from inadequate training – and the army can show the way, writes Elizabeth Boulton
In June, The Canberra Times reported that the CSIRO had been handed a notice by Comcare to fix its alleged bullying culture by year’s end. With the deadline now due, the CSIRO reports the problem is in hand; staff have been fast-tracked through an e-learning module, and risk-management procedures have been reviewed. I’m not convinced.
After a three-year sojourn in the science world, I would argue that the real issue here is underinvestment in leadership and management capacity. Even at the global level, statements in a key report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – a peak global scientific body – indicate this is a problem. The IPCC declares that ”knowledge about how to create and enable leadership remains elusive”.
Anyone with a humanities background would immediately know this conclusion unfortunately demonstrates ignorance of disciplines such as history, politics and business management, and even social sciences such as psychology. People have been studying leadership for centuries. Leadership is important, because the leader often establishes the psychological climate in a workplace.
Through small actions, the leader indicates what behaviour is accepted and what values are important, and these attitudes tend to infiltrate the organisation.
A leader who subtly encourages power games rather than merit-based and ethical behaviour gives a green light to all sorts of perverse undermining behaviour.
In contrast, while even the greatest leader cannot eliminate the negatives of human frailties, they can create an environment where human strengths and noble attributes flourish. Where wonderful values such as trust, fairness and decency are upheld.
Being around a good leader who emanates these characteristics is refreshing and inspiring. I can speak to this because I have worked with people like this. Let me talk about the army, where I came from. It is a relevant comparison, because in the science world, as in the army, the key asset is the people.
To ensure its people (and also its resources and its activities) are properly managed, the army invests heavily in developing leadership and plain old management capability at all levels of the organisation.
This starts with recruitment. Although many officer cadets have already displayed good leadership aptitude as school captains, sports or community leaders, and some are ”natural leaders”, still no one would dream of putting them in front of soldiers until they undergo an 18-month training course.
From private soldier to warrant officer, and from lieutenant to general, there is a steady feed of leadership and management training and education courses, varying from two to 12 months’ duration, tailored to meet the needs of different career stages.
Early training covers not only leadership theory and team psychology but also many pragmatic subjects, including understanding leave, pay entitlements, equal employment opportunity (EEO) and occupational health and safety (OH&S) legislation, how to do performance reviews, and how to give counselling.
The hard bit is applying all this knowledge properly, and so this capability is developed through many practical activities, with debriefs and a chance to learn and check progress.
In mainstream defence life, there is mandatory annual training in EEO, OH&S, fraud and other areas. This investment produces a reliable body of solid, values-based leaders who know how to look after personnel, build teams, organise people and resources and herd cats in chaotic environments.
It also yields a smaller crop of particularly exceptional leaders – the sort that make you feel compelled to thump your fist on your chest and say: ”I’ll follow you anywhere.”
Flash to the science world and in contrast we typically (and appropriately) see people whose natural talent, aptitude and bulk of professional experience lies in subjects such as mathematics, physics or computer modelling. On reaching a higher level of technical mastery, they may move into management roles. To prepare, they may attend a three-day Stephen Covey leadership or Emotional Intelligence course. Some do a one-day Leader as Coach course.
It’s a start and well-intentioned, but this investment is still absolutely inadequate and leaves managers in a vulnerable position. At the day-to-day level, in my three years in the science world there was no equity, privacy or fraud and OH&S-type training, and I can’t recall much emphasis on values such as integrity or tolerance.
Bullying is ultimately about the unethical wielding of power. It can be used by those who have no legitimate power, do not know how to responsibly exercise authority or those who have a deep sense of inadequacy. Capable people do not need to bully – their performance stands for itself.
When power and authority systems are not robust and fair, perverse versions of power and influence dominate. Strong ethical leadership is the main guardian against this type of distortion. The same lesson has been learnt in the army – under severe psychological conditions such as warfare, without strong ethical leadership, atrocities such as the My Lai massacre in Vietnam are more likely to occur.
Today’s climate scientists suffer immense stress from which there is no rest and recreation or deployment home. They watch the death signals of the planet day in and day out, and are confronted by vicious attacks from climate sceptics (such as death threats and threats towards their families).
I was shocked to find they are often bogged down with an immense amount of bureaucratic administrivia. One climate scientist told me he spent only about 25 per cent of his time doing science.
The other deeply concerning issue is that there are only a few handfuls of people who are up to job of doing high-level science. You could take the view that Australia’s best scientists, those with an intellect up in the stratosphere, are like the Special Forces: strategic national assets. These people are walking around with a multi-million-dollar asset between their ears – but it’s not a missile, it is their brains.
And what investment goes into managing these strategic national assets? Virtually none. Scientists, on their side, perhaps require some humility to admit that although they are the smartest kids on the block, they still ”may not know what they don’t know” and consequently display some openness to ideas about how to properly lead, rather than bully.
Elizabeth Boulton, a former army major in the Australian Defence Force, is a researcher at the Australian National University.