Bullying rife in public service - survey

03:13, Sep 14 2012

Bullying is common within the public service and health sector, and many managers see victimisation as a way to get things done, a new survey says.

The Victoria University study surveyed more than 7000 female Public Service Association members working in big organisations such as DHBs, central or local government.

Although it was looking at workplace democracy in general, a stark 43 per cent reported feeling bullied, and 33 per cent felt they had been discriminated against.

The typical respondent was in her mid-40s, working fulltime and highly qualified.

The results have disappointed State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie, who has vowed to work more closely with the PSA to eliminate inappropriate behaviour.

Victoria school of management researcher Geoff Plimmer said such behaviour stemmed from managers, who often found victimisation effective in the short term in order to get things done.

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Many of the organisations with a high rate of bullying had poor human resources practices, poor management, and were places where employees felt they had little "voice".

Factors such as being humiliated in meetings, being marginalised and being given unfair work allocation and hours were reported in the survey.

Managers were also victimised by their bosses or picked on by staff, Dr Plimmer said. But women in management were more vulnerable than men. "It seems to be that women are less protected by hierarchy than men are from victimisation and bullying behaviour."

Bad managers did not know how to deal with complaints of bullying either, because bad management tolerated bad systems.

The public sector was particularly vulnerable to bullying, he said, and he hoped a bigger followup survey next year would help explain why.

PSA president Brenda Pilott said bullying was quite endemic in New Zealand workplaces. "A lot of people do suffer in silence and sometimes just move on rather than confront the issue."

In April, Building and Housing Department chief executive Katrina Bach was warned and financially penalised after allegations of verbally abusing and manhandling a junior employee.

In June, a Social Development Ministry staff member was stood down after an incident.

Employment law specialist Susan Hornsby-Geluk was surprised by the high bullying and discrimination figures.

But there was a certain "institutional sexism", in which a woman in management could be considered overbearing or bullying, where a man was seen as strong and decisive.

Managers "ran a mile" when an employee mentioned bullying or stress, she said. But the underlying culture of bullying often came from the top.

Mr Rennie said: "I want to reiterate that we hold agency chief executives accountable for ensuring that appropriate behaviour is observed in the workplace."

KEY FINDINGS

43 per cent had been bullied.

33 per cent had felt discriminated against.

29 per cent had gone to union about work-related issues.

24 per cent dissatisfied with manager support.

51 per cent worked more hours than contracted.

WORKER COMMENTS

"When I was pregnant and very unwell, my current manager made me feel pressured to take either early maternity leave (which I can't afford to do) or hurry and return to work."

"Arrogant and dictatorial managers not respecting my expertise. Discrimination because I have been here longer than others."

"I was bullied because I wanted to work different hours to the standard."

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The Dominion Post