Workers bullied, survey finds

Last updated 19:13 19/08/2014

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A quarter of workers questioned in an extensive state services survey say they have been bullied or harassed in the workplace in the past year.

The problem was worst at district health boards where 30 per cent said they had been bullied or harassed. There was a wide gender difference, with 29 per cent of women surveyed saying they had been bullied or harassed, compared to 17 per cent of men.

In 46 per cent of cases a colleague at a similar level was identified as the person doing the bullying or harassing, while immediate managers were the cause in 39 per cent of cases.

Only 38 per cent of respondents who considered they had been bullied or harassed reported the most recent incident.

Among those who considered they were bullied, 50 per cent felt no constructive action would be taken if they reported the incident, 43 per cent did not want to upset workplace relationships, 19 per cent said no action was taken when bullying was previously reported. In 26 per cent of the cases the staff member was afraid the wrongdoer would take action against him or her.

"The results suggest that agencies can do more to improve their processes and increase the level of satisfaction of those who report breaches," a report on the survey said.

The Integrity and Conduct Survey 2013 was prepared by Nielsen, with the State Services Commission. It was conducted online last November and December, with 13,395 respondents from 40 state services agencies taking part. The overall response rate was 54 per cent.

Previous integrity and conduct surveys were carried out in 2007 and 2010. For the 2013 survey a new questionnaire was designed to provide more information through a broader lens, a report of the survey results, published today, said.

Direct comparisons could not be made with the two earlier surveys.

In a foreword to the report, State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie said the 2013 survey results affirmed the high standards of integrity and conduct for which the New Zealand state services were known.

But the 2013 results continued a worrying trend apparent in the 2007 and 2010 surveys. "Just over half of DHB (district health board) staff consider that their agency promotes integrity and conduct matters and only 38 per cent rate their induction in integrity, conduct and ethics as good," Rennie said.

"The DHB sector results are disappointing in comparison with those of the other types of agencies."

The commission would ensure the Ministry of Health worked with the DHBs and chief executives to take a deliberate and conscientious approach to strengthening the systems and culture that drove high standards of behaviour, Rennie said.

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He also noted: "Importantly, there is also still a clear need for agencies to better prevent bullying in our state sector workplaces." 

The report said the results suggested agencies had work to do to encourage state servants to report wrongdoing, and to ensure effective action including investigation  was taken in response to reports, and that staff who reported wrongdoing were protected from adverse consequences.

While 87 per cent of state servants said they would feel obliged to report any wrongdoing they witnessed, only 23 per cent of those who saw misconduct in the previous 12 months had reported every instance, with 35 per cent reporting some but not all.

Nearly a third of inspection and regulation workers, such as police and customs staff, who considered they had been bullied or harassed and had not reported the incident did not think their agency would protect them. There were also 13 per cent who were afraid the agency would take action against them. That compared, respectively, to 23 per cent and 8 per cent overall.

Slightly more than a third of DHB staff said they had seen suspected acts of bullying in the previous 12 months, compared to 28 per cent overall. Also among DHB staff, 28 per cent had seen abusive or intimidating behaviour, compared to  23 per cent for the total state service.

- Stuff

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