An interesting article – Workplace Express
The following article hits the nail squarely on the head. The immediate actions of Human Resources staff are often critical to the outcome of a complaint of bullying or other misconduct. This however does not excuse senior management from overall responsibility in how such matters are ultimately addressed. In the case of the CSIRO, many of these matters have been addressed to the CSIRO Chief Executive Officer, Dr Megan Clark herself.
Given that bullying is specifically identified as misconduct under the CSIRO Code of Conduct policy, we wonder whether Human Resources (or People & Culture as it is referred to in CSIRO) will enact the misconduct policy in relation to its employees found to have engaged in bullying. To date the bullies appear to be a largely protected species, many of whom are permitted to continue terrorising other employees despite the danger they present to the health and well-being of others in the workplace. These bullies, like “parish priests”, are often redeployed into other areas of the organisation to again prey on a new group of unsuspecting “subordinates”.
CSIRO needs to address bullying as organisational, not individual, problem: Report
16 August 2013 12:18pm
Australia’s national science agency CSIRO has received a mixed report card from an independent investigation into allegations of workplace bullying, which found that while the organisation’s work culture wasn’t “toxic”, its policies had encouraged a “blame the victim” approach.
The investigation, by Emeritus Professor Dennis Pearce AO and HWL Ebsworth Lawyers, was set up early this year after former CSIRO employees publicly alleged that they had been subjected to bullying and other forms of misconduct.
According to the report released this week on the first phase of the investigation, there is not a “major problem of workplace bullying or other unreasonable behaviour in CSIRO and it is definitely not possible to describe the work culture at CSIRO as ‘toxic'”.
However, investigators had “noted a number of pressure points within the operating model and the nature of the workforce which increase the risk of bullying and we have seen aspects of the Organisation’s response to workplace bullying that concern us”.
The investigation received 110 submissions from current and former employees that outlined 130 discrete allegations of bullying, harassment and unreasonable behaviour.
Finding there were “pockets of concern” that need addressing, the report includes 34 recommendations, which include that the organisation:
- ensure coal-face managers and HR staff are trained to “adopt reports of workplace bullying as its problem, rather than the individual’s;
- promote an “early and quick” informal resolution process and improve monitoring of informal complaints and resolutions so that more formal action can be taken for repeat offending; and
- ensure the organisation investigates more complex or repeat complaints through misconduct avenues, rather than relying on victims to take action through grievance procedures.
The report continues that “fundamentally”, what is required is “a shift in CSIRO’s practical approach from dealing with workplace bullying as an individual victim’s problem, to dealing with it as the Organisation’s problem”.
It found that historically there had been an “over-reliance” on using grievance procedures for investigating suspected misconduct “when the separate misconduct procedure should have been activated and utilised—particularly so in instances involving allegations of workplace bullying”.
“The relevant policies have (and still do) encourage this practice of using grievance procedures to respond to allegations of workplace bullying,” it says.
Line managers and HR officers exacerbated the situation
Investigators found that problems with the way bullying complaints had been treated were exacerbated by the close involvement of line managers and HR officers.
Line management having responsibility for these issues had resulted in “the people about whom the complaint is being made” being “closely associated with both the victim and the alleged perpetrator”.
The report says that many submissions were “very nearly as critical of the actions (or inactions) of Human Resources officers as they have been of the persons whose conduct they have complained about”.
“We acknowledge that workplace bullying is difficult to deal with, and that some people may have unrealistic expectations of what Human Resources’ role is in such matters, but we see a clear opportunity for improvement here.”
The report says the organisation should consider establishing a discrete Conduct Integrity Unit to manage “workplace bullying, other significant inter-personal misconduct and issues relating to scientific integrity”.
CSIRO chief executive Dr Megan Clark said in a statement yesterday that the board would work with staff, the CPSU and other stakeholders to implement the report’s recommendations.
Clark said she would “apologise unreservedly” if the second phase of the investigation found that CSIRO employees had been bullied and harassed.
CPSU staff association secretary, Sam Popovski, said the investigation showed the CSIRO needed to take “greater responsibility in resolving – not avoiding – conflict between individuals before it has a chance to escalate”.
“Policy and procedures need to be improved and made fairer. Managers and human resources staff need to be more accessible to staff and more responsive,” he said.
However, Maurice Blackburn employment principal Giri Sivaraman, who wrote to Comcare in 2012 on behalf of 12 former CSIRO staff members alleging bullying behaviour, said it seemed “bizarre that the inquiry says there are only ‘pockets of concern’ and yet 110 submissions were received and a series of recommendations are made to address the ‘blame the victim culture’ that was prevalent in CSIRO”.
“This report has backed up our view that there are some serious issues at CSIRO. Of the 130 allegations received 95% relate to multiple incidents of workplace bullying or unreasonable behavior. That does not seem like a ‘pocket of concern’ to me.”