Allan Halse: Hoping to impact workplace bullies

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 10:54 24/02/2014
Allan Halse
NEW VENTURE: Former Hamilton City Council staffer Allan Halse has started an employment consultancy business to tackle workplace bullying

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If running a marathon taught Allan Halse anything, it's the importance of pacing himself.

Mr Halse competed in the London marathon in 2010 and finished in the top half of the field in a respectable four hours and 15 minutes.

"When you're running a marathon you know the finish line is a long distance away," the 62-year-old explains. "So you learn to focus on more immediate things while working towards the main goal of finishing."

It's that ability to not lose sight of the bigger picture which served Mr Halse well during his employment dispute with Hamilton City Council.

The council staff member and outspoken union delegate was suspended on October 29, 2013, after bringing numerous allegations of bullying within the organisation to light.

Council bosses accused Mr Halse of publishing derogatory statements about the council on the internet, providing information to the media when he was not authorised to, breaching council protocols for protected disclosures, and breaking rules for city staff during an election period.

Mr Halse was dismissed on January 14 but challenged the decision and eventually settled with the council after two days of mediation this month.

The settlement prevents Mr Halse from making any comments which could be viewed as disparaging toward the council.

However he has already started work on his next career move.

This month he launched his own employment consultancy, CultureSafe NZ Ltd, and will advocate for victims of workplace bullying as well as provide anti-bullying training for employers.

The idea to set up his own consultancy came after Mr Halse was approached by two Hamilton law firms seeking to tap into his expertise.

Mr Halse said workplace bullying was a persistent and growing problem in New Zealand workplaces.

Auckland University professor Tim Bentley, considered a leading expert on workplace bullying, estimated at least one in five employees had suffered from bullying. Workplace bullying is estimated to cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

The signs of workplace bullying can be self evident: low productivity, high staff absenteeism, and low engagement.

But the underlying causes of bullying can be harder to unravel.

Mr Halse said the decline in union membership had left many workers exposed. "Workplace conditions are getting worse because workers aren't acting collaboratively. It's not rocket science to say that any group can achieve better outcomes when they act collaboratively."

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Mr Halse said he has spent the past two years trying to understand workplace bullying and believes an overwhelming majority of employers want to be good bosses.

A lot of trouble stems from employers not knowing where the boundaries lie between "strong management, authoritarian management and bullying".

"On the other side there are people who believe they are victims of bullying and they aren't. It may all sound simple but it isn't."

Newly-elected city councillor Philip Yeung was employed at the council for 12 years and said he was only aware of two alleged incidents of bullying during that time.

He wasn't convinced a wide-spread bullying problem existed at council.

"I think in any big organisation those sorts of things will happen but to what extent is quite hard to say," he said.

"But I think there must be a process to follow when incidents do occur and I think the council has worked hard to create those processes."

In contrast, councillor Dave Macpherson said the council had consistently failed to address concerns of bullying.

Employees, such as Mr Halse, who spoke out about the issue tended to be "shut up or stomped on", Mr Macpherson said.

There was some truth to comments there would be incidents of bullying or harassment in any large organisation from time to to time, Mr Macpherson said, but it was important such incidents were handled in a transparent and independent manner.

"The problem is when the complaints have been about council management. In those incidents the response from management has been poor in my opinion and continues to be a cause of concern," he said.

Council organisational development general manager Oliver Te Ua disagreed a widespread bullying problem existed at council and said the organisation had invested considerable time and effort in developing "a robust and advanced" anti-bullying and harassment system.

The keystone of the system included a revised anti-bullying and harassment policy as well as processes developed with and agreed to by the Public Service Association.

Mr Te Ua said external independent consultants were used to investigate formal complaints of bullying, with none being substantiated.

Meanwhile, Mr Halse said he was invigorated by his career move and the opportunity to help foster safe, healthy workplaces.

"I come from a rural background and supporting each other and having a social awareness is part of my background.

"Where I have skills that I believe can help someone, I'll use them." aaron.leaman@waikatotimes.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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