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Civil Service

Update on our review of tackling harassment and misconduct

Sue Owen, Permanent Secretary for DCMS and the Civil Service LGB&TI Champion
Sue Owen, Permanent Secretary for DCMS and the Civil Service Diversity & Inclusion Champion

In January, I wrote about our commitment to tackling all forms of harassment and misconduct in the Civil Service and the work we are doing to deliver that.

As I said then, we are totally committed to ensuring all of our people are treated with dignity and respect. We have zero tolerance for any form of bullying, harassment and discrimination from any source; and where it occurs it is essential that it gets reported and is tackled. But as I set out in my previous blog, our 2017 People Survey results tell us that on average 11% of respondents had personally experienced bullying or harassment at work; and the overall percentage has stayed much the same since the survey began in 2009. So we need to continue to take action.

I also wrote about the review I am leading at the request of Sir Jeremy Heywood to look at whether there are ways we can strengthen existing cross-Whitehall arrangements. In doing so, I said that I would let you know by the end of March what we had found and what that means we will now do.

Our review has benefitted from a wide range of views and evidence, including through discussions with HR teams, staff networks and trade unions. Importantly, we have had direct input from over 13,000 of you across more than 80 Civil Service organisations, through your completing our anonymous online survey. While this is a survey individuals chose to fill in, and may therefore not be representative of all views, it has nonetheless given colleagues an important channel to communicate with us and provided invaluable feedback and insights.

Clear messages

I am grateful to everyone who has taken the time to contribute, many of whom have shared their personal experiences as well as their great ideas. Some of you have told us about inspiring leaders and successful actions to tackle harassment or misconduct. Others reported less positive experiences, where they did not feel able to speak up, or did not feel well supported when they did. Overall you have given us some very clear messages about areas where you want to see improvements or more action.

Three key themes have emerged from the work so far.  

  • First, there is strong support for ensuring we have a culture of dignity and respect in all of our teams and workplaces. Colleagues are looking for greater clarity on what that means, especially on the behaviours we should expect and not expect to see in the workplace, as well as visible action to make it happen.
  • Second, while colleagues have heard our commitment to tackling harassment and misconduct, many of you do not feel you have yet seen it happening around you. You are looking for much clearer signs of action being taken, issues and individuals being tackled, and, therefore, that this commitment is genuine. 
  • Third, there is work we need to do to improve the experience of colleagues who do speak up. You said that the investigation process can feel mechanistic, can take too long and can feel unsupportive. You also said you are looking for access to people who can support and advise you in deciding what to do, particularly when first considering whether and how to speak up.  

I discussed our evidence and findings so far with my fellow Permanent Secretaries at the end of February. We were united in our ongoing commitment to tackling any potential harassment, bullying or misconduct in our departments, and in our determination to make progress. No instance of bullying, harassment or discrimination is acceptable. But we also recognised that your feedback shows that we need to do more to show you how that commitment is backed by real action; and we agreed that as leaders we need to step up to and meet the challenges raised by what you have told us so far.


We further agreed that we now want to do two things - share and get your feedback on our findings, while also taking action to address the issues you have told us about. To that end:

  • Civil Service HR will work with departments to look at what quick actions can be taken, drawing on the issues and best practice identified through the review. Your department will be able to tell you what those actions are in due course.
  • We will also work with departments to arrange sessions where we can share and discuss our findings further. These sessions will also be an opportunity for your department to share more about what they are doing. Your own organisation will provide further details once they are finalised.
  • Civil Service HR will begin the work to fully review and improve our reporting and investigation arrangements.

I remain keen to get views from as many of you as possible. So, alongside running the departmental sessions, our staff survey will remain open until the end of May. If you have thoughts or experiences you would like to share and have not yet done so, please do take the time to fill it in.

Once we have run those sessions and had the chance to reflect on what they tell us, I will update you on our final conclusions and what that means for action. In the meantime, and as I said in my previous blog, I hope that through this work you will feel increasingly safe and supported to speak up. It is only through your reporting incidents, so that they can be investigated and appropriate action taken, that we can move forward.

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  1. Comment by S 2 posted on

    I totally agree shammi - its particularly bad in the regions - it 'seems' people are given the roles without any thought put into whether they can actually do the job. A lot of times it 'seems' people are chosen because it 'seems' others want to get rid of them, or they are chosen because they 'seem' to be a member of some cliques that are dominant in that office. A lot needs to change...

  2. Comment by shammi posted on

    It's brilliant that people want to change things for the better....but I don't necessarily feel you have the right people 'on the ground' working towards this. Some people inherit titles of 'Equality & Diversity' Officers/reps but in reality they don't know what they are doing and many times are culprits themselves.

  3. Comment by John posted on

    Wow. Loads of commentary. This is good data showing the problem is widespread. The Civil Service has a problem. It cannot investigate itself, due to its nature. External independent oversight is the way forward, but I fully expect that this outcome will be prevented/blocked rather than taken on board. It is a reason why Civil Service thinking has not evolved on these matters.

  4. Comment by KD posted on

    I think we should be absolutely clear that discrimination and harassment are unlawful.
    As an employer, the Civil Service has a legal duty of care to every single employee and legal obligations not to discriminate against employees with protected characteristics.
    This means any manager failing to comply with the law on these is automatically in breach of the Civil Service Code and and must be subject to the appropriate disciplinary procedures if indeed our Senior Management is being honest about the promise of "xero tolerance"

    Are HR professionals must be more closely scrutinised and accountable for the "advice" they offer managers, which from the testimony above, suggests they are not fit for purpose in tackling what is a massive problem affecting huge numbers of employees in individual areas of the Service.

    I wonder what the statistics reveal for the number of disciplinary investigations arising from complaints of discrimination, harassment or bullying. I suspect it will lamentably low if the stats are even collated, which they should be to meet the Service's public sector equality duty.

    My view is that every instance of BHD must be reported, employees legal right to have a meaningful Grievance procedure must be honoured and where these are protracted over months or years, employees must start making direct complaints to the Civil Service Commission and to Employment Tribunals.

    Only then, might the real face of bullying, harassment and discrimination be taken seriously and taken out of the hands of local managerial elites who have played lip service to the problem for too long and damaged the Service as a "great place to work" almost beyond repair.

  5. Comment by Anonymous posted on

    Some very interesting comments on here which I hope that Sue and Senior Civil Servants and Ministers read and act on.
    I agree that the policies have become bullying policies, which Management in different areas can interpret exactly how they wish.
    There are different areas of HMCTS interpreting the policies on flexi, expenses, sickness differently.
    Management are continuously interfering with Team Leader duties, forcing them to "give a warning" to people off sick, of forcing them to put pressure on the administrative employees over Flexi Management, denying leave, basically anything that will make a permanent Civil Servant who works hard and has a good sickness record become stressed, depressed, scared of Management.
    After attended a "Bullying and Harassment course I gave some examples of how Management had treated me and I was clearly informed that it was bullying and harassment, but what can be done? Nothing!
    Permanent staff are asked "do you think you need to look for a new role/job" if they dare to question Management.
    The national average may be 11% have been bullied and harassed in the last year" but there are offices with over double this figure, but still the higher powers do not remove the Management from office and instead allow Management to slowly drive out permanent Civil Servants.
    Good hard working permanent Civil Servants are driven and bullied away to be replaced by agency staff that have little rights and that Management can just remove from office if they dare to question anything Management asks. Surely this is very little difference to zero hour contract workers, which the Government are trying to eradicate.
    I do not think that anything will be done to stop bullying and harassment as the policies that are in operation are open to interpretation and are interpreted differently within the organisation, with some interpreting them to the maximum detriment to permanent Civil Servants.
    The policies need to be fairer and followed exactly the same by every department/area.

  6. Comment by Jon DWP posted on

    I would love to see things change, but so often it is lip service.

    Until we have fully impartial investigations, and less victimisation of those brave enough to step up and say something is wrong we will never see change.

  7. Comment by Karen posted on

    Having been the victim of bullying by a colleague on the same grade and suffering daily from a constant drip effect of being ignored/excluded/monitored, I raised an informal complaint. The colleague denied everything even though the Line manager knew what was happening and others had been bullied by the same person but not felt strong enough to make a complaint. My manager said it wasn't really serious because it wasn't like I'd been hit or anything. Mediation was suggested but would have been useless when the perpetrator wouldn't even admit to any of it. I was told that even if I raised a formal complaint and it was upheld that no action would be taken against the perpetrator. The only reason it stopped was when the colleague retired. Had they not done so, I'm sure it would have continued and my only option would have been to leave a job I enjoyed. Early intervention on the managers part could have saved a lot of distress. An independent body to investigate complaints is the way forward to take this out of the hands of managers.

  8. Comment by Diana Day posted on

    I'm sorry to say there is nothing in the blog that gives clear indications things will change for the better. I personally would rather have heard nothing than a message that is still full of promises but doesn't deliver. I like many others what to see change to see people to be held accountable and to ensure policies are clear concise and deliverable. I don't want someone to write it is the persons perception that bullying harassment and discrimination took place when it was actually documented but covered up by HR proceses that support managers and not individual employees. We are here to all work together to achieve the departments aims of being an inclusive. To achieve that aim means a radical approach that will not be evident from the survey but will be evident from those that have suffered at the hands of bullies or perceived bullies.

  9. Comment by KT posted on

    Discrimination - "when an employer treats an employee less favourably than someone else, or when a working condition, policy, procedure or rule disadvantages one group more than another."
    Many of us (of both genders) have not moved through our pay ranges for many years and can earn 1000s less for doing the same job. Is this not discrimination compared to your peers on the max of that same pay range?
    There should be only one pay rate in each grade. An uplift would be welcome as would a reduction for those on the maximum.

  10. Comment by PM posted on

    The title of this investigation appears under the banner of " A brilliant Civil service. "
    This is somewhat insensitive, when clearly, to 11% of bullied Civil Servants, it isn't. Its good to see that someone is trying to do something at last though. The current investigation process is not fit for purpose.

  11. Comment by Martyn Main posted on

    I have read all the comments to date and would like to offer the following observations:
    Independent support for people suffering Harassment and/or Bullying is offered to Trade Union members as part of their membership. As a Branch Secretary for the PCS Union I am actively engaged (along with the other Union Reps) in representing/supporting a number of members in my Branch. The vast majority of Personal Cases that we deal with in the Branch relate to Harassment and Bullying. The support offered by Trade Unions frequently produces tangible benefits for the Union member in these cases (and can also serve to improve working relationships with line management). Trade Unions exist solely to support their members - PCS has no political affiliations. We are constantly receiving expressions of gratitude and relief from the people we assist in these cases, so I guess we must be doing something right.
    I understand, and sympathise with the frustrations expressed by the correspondents (above) but taking no action (in the belief that it is pointless) is not an option.
    I have personal experience of people being moved sideways following a Harassment and Bullying complaint, and agree that it sends the wrong message and all too often is done by senior management as an expediency measure with no thought for the Complainant's morale etc.
    All too often these cases stem from a lack of communication on the part of managers. To be effective this communication should involve managers actively listening to staff and their issues and being prepared to change their plans (where necessary) to accommodate legitimate concerns. The excellent Civil Service Leadership Statement says of its managers and leaders "We will be visible, approachable, and welcome challenge, however uncomfortable" and also "We will champion both difference and external experience, recognising the value they bring".
    If all managers and leaders in the Civil Service embraced these concepts, I believe that many of the H & B cases (and other sources of discontentment) would not occur. Unlike many of the correspondents (above) I believe that the stated Civil Service values are excellent (and I have had several years of experience in the Private Sector to compare them with). It is up to all of us to ensure that these stated standards are adhered to, and to properly support those who feel disenfranchised.

    • Replies to Martyn Main>

      Comment by Mary posted on

      As a line manager, I agree with Martyn that we should all join our trade union. From my experience I know PCS reps are a valuable source of knowledge that is too often disregarded by managers and HR.

      I have made managerial mistakes in the past.
      I didn't make sufficient adjustments to remove the various difficulties some people with disability experience doing their work or meeting standard performance measures.

      To be honest I just didn't realise this was something I had to think much about or something I was legally bound to do.

      When a person had a grievance about my decisions upheld (supported by their PCS rep), it was a huge wake up call for me.

      Only then did I realise how poorly trained and skilled I was, to ensure our working practices did not put disabled colleagues at a disadvantage.

      Unfortunately the standard minimum training provided for managers, on equalities and disbaility, is frankly pathetic and I view it now as a compulsory "tick-box" for the benefit of Human Resources but no benefit for managers or the people we manage

      I took the initiative and upskilled myself, taking various online courses. I'm now confident that I understand all of the issues around discrimination and definitely my legal obligations, unfortunately many many of my management colleagues feel this is a side-issue among the competing and more high profile demands they have.

      I strongly believe, ss the old saying goes, that if you're not part of solution, you're part of the problem. So the first question everyone must ask themselves is am I a leader of progressive change in the Civil Service or am I a barrier to change.

  12. Comment by K posted on

    I have completed this survey on B & H and am yet still wondering if anything will change for the better. I too have found myself the victim of bullying and yet when I raised the issue with my line manager was told "but you are a quiet person...." as though I deserved to be picked on. I am "quiet" because I have a medical condition which doesn't exactly make me feel like dancing around the office. I also take medication which makes me feel lethargic. This was a comment from a manager who I would have expected to have a bit more insight and understanding. I do wonder what hope there really is in improving this dreadful situation.

  13. Comment by punish the victim posted on

    I was bullied and had a breakdown because of the unfair actions of management. The management response was to treat that stress it caused me as inappropriate behaviour; that being tearful at your desk is something to be punished, not concerned about. I was off sick for 6 months because of it. They did take formal action - but against me saying how upset I was was upsetting my l/m and that meant I was bullying her!!

  14. Comment by Howard Tweddle posted on

    It is incredibly sad, to hear this "is" the report, obviously there may be more, however we shall see.
    I for one will not hold my breathe, if Ms Sue Owen, would like to have first hand knowledge of bullying and Harrassement in the work place, I suggests she contact me, outwith the system, and I will gladly give up what I know. I will not speak within this system as it is intrinsically flawed, and designed to prevent any whistle blowing, and in most cases proof is asked for, and that is so sadly lacking , so here I am.

    • Replies to Howard Tweddle>

      Comment by Susie Scarlott posted on

      Many thanks for your comment Howard. I am part of the team supporting Sue Owen in carrying out the review referred to in her blog, and I thought it would be helpful if I responded to your comment. The review is not yet finished because we are testing out with staff whether we have correctly interpreted what we think people have told us so far and also whether the actions we are taking feel like the right ones. Once we have done this and reflected on the findings, including any further responses to the survey which is still open, Sue has committed to provide a further update about next steps and actions. We expect this will be in late June or early July.

  15. Comment by Ray posted on

    Well said Linda.

  16. Comment by KMH posted on

    S Dhillon's point above is striking. It can take a few months to process an event, and to build up the courage to do something about it. One cannot put a stop watch on the incident to report it - our brains process feelings and emotions at different paces.

  17. Comment by Gary posted on

    I suspect that there is also a problem here with austerity, or 'cuts' to the civil service in terms of numbers (excluding Brexitty things of course). This leads to fewer people doing more work, more hurriedly, and with little time to think about their behaviours towards other people. When people are stressed, they tend to become less diplomatic with those around them, which can be seen as bullying or harassment. So I think this is institutional, as opposed to people really wanting to pick on others for the spite of it. Also, if those in leadership roles are seen to be displaying behaviours that should have been last seen, and dealt with, in the school playground, this does not set a great example, and can lead to a toxic culture.

  18. Comment by Jane posted on

    Absolutely spot on, too often the management culture is the root, I'm awaiting an independent review having raised the issue, where the independence will be found I know not meanwhile officers continue to suffer.

  19. Comment by Anna De'Arth posted on

    This is a positive step forward. The Home Office has a long way to go with acting on and prevention of this type of behaviour.

    When it is a management grade committing the act it is particularly difficult and often ignored by senior staff because they depend on those management grades for various work streams, therefore those being bullied are left to suffer in a downward spiral of stress, poor health, worsening attendance and career deterioration as a result.

    No one should have to work under these conditions.
    A prompt, clear, and unbiased process needs to be put into place, with continual support offered in order for the victim to feel secure enough to come forward, it is a very serious matter.

  20. Comment by E posted on

    All the comments here resonate. One of the key members of the group set up to look at bullying and harassment where I am is the bully masterminded who kick-started the horrible experiences I had soon after employment and still experience! Am I expected to have confidence that sitting in such groups suddenly change the bullies? What hope do you have if staff at senior levels are the masterminds and others have no choice but to go along to please? Could regular calls to 'HR' which always result in the senior bullies and harassers 'being right' be aimed at intimidating? How can HR be trusted when the bullies are always 'right'? In my case, I have been left wondering who this HR that is being called so regularly really is. I agree with Linda and S; fairness can only be assured if an external, independent and impartial body manages the process.

  21. Comment by G posted on

    I've seen examples of bullying being deal with both very well and very badly. The survey questions linked to this article are too shallow, and in my opinion fundamentally flawed. The main problem I see is the context in which the bullying is happening: Primarily that gets down to who is doing it. I've seen staff disciplined for their actions, but others not. The only difference at all was the grade of the offender.

  22. Comment by Ashley posted on

    I have had a different experience with bullying and harassment issues. Staff that are accused of bullying or harassment receive little support and are left for months awaiting outcomes from investigations. I have received a number of stress reports from staff awaiting outcomes from investigations. Better feedback and liaison with staff would help greatly.

  23. Comment by D posted on

    The Performance rating is used to bully staff. If you are not part of certain social circles in the office you are more likely to be marked down or denied opportunities. Often I have seen long term TDA positions given to people without an expression of interest and therefore no fair competition.

    • Replies to D>

      Comment by Paul posted on

      Absolutely right D - you've hit the nail on the head! If you're not one of the 'chosen ones' in your site, you have no chance. I'm fortunate that I have a very good, very considerate manager at present, and have also had these in the past - but I've also worked with some shocking managers, who favour their friends, approve TDA without any offer to other staff - and are basically out of their depth as an HEO, hence their poor behaviour - it's used as a cover for their inadequate skill levels, as in "Don't question me, or you'll regret it", but all their staff see right through this, to a manager who cannot manage.

  24. Comment by C posted on

    I agree that bullying remains a significant problem in some work areas, and I am well aware of it where I work. Significantly, if this involves a manager bullying staff, then trying to tackle this is extremely difficult and dangerous for the person(s) who raises an issue, and/or agree to give evidence in support of a person making a complaint.

  25. Comment by Ian posted on

    I posted a comment about being 'forced' to apologise to a Line Manager (TDA).

    I had asked the Line Manager a perfectly straight forward question to which I received a response, but I was not notified nor given any indication at the time that I had acted out of order.

    I was then seen by my substantive Line Manager to say I had been reported, but I was never told what the allegation was nor given any chance to give my side of the story. It was just assumed that I was the 'guilty party' I was also given the 'impression' if I did not apologise it would be taken as a 'formal notice of disciplinary procedure', although this was later denied.

    However my comment was deemed by yourselves as being not appropriate even though I felt at the time that I had been 'bullied' in to making an apology.

  26. Comment by John B posted on

    There is a systemic problem with the management culture in our organisation and it's unlikely to be fixed by this 'initiative'. There needs to be proper independent investigation of complaints that can't be influenced by local managers. Time and again investigations are undertaken by the managers colleagues who simply close ranks. If the Dept is really serious about tackling this issue then why doesn't it analyse the existing statistics and question why so few complaints are upheld - I'm afraid it's a case of just paying lip service again.

  27. Comment by Sue Baker posted on

    I agree with the above... I'm shocked by how little managers know and seem to care about these issues, even when legislation like the Equality Act 2010 sets precedence. It's shocking how managers and staff are not held accountable for their actions, especially where the vulnerable members of our staff, i.e. minority groups / those with disabilities etc., are concerned. Usually it all starts with a simple misunderstanding, or lack of awareness of what that persons disabilities/beliefs etc. are and how they may need some extra consideration.

    Too many times I've witnessed the member of staff raising the issue being disciplined while those carrying out the undesired behaviours being given the support!

    And speaking as someone who's experienced some horrendous behaviour from others, due to my own disabilities, it's really inspiring to read this blog and see that action is finally being taken in this area. It's also great to see how much diversity and inclusion are featuring in my departments (HMRC) and the wider civil service strategies.

    This really shows that at the very senior level, these issues are recognised and accountability being taken - it's disappointing however, that the lower and middle management levels (up to SO) seem not to be aware of this, and when you point out the strategic plans regarding this area to them, along with details of the equality act 2010 etc. they seem to think it doesn't apply to them or their business area!

    The initial action with the survey etc. is great, but should not hold up a direct line of communication and training down through the organisation. No one, no matter how high or low their grade, should ever feel they have to 'put up and shut up', which unfortunately I've witnessed is the case in my 18 years as a civil servant.

    Keep up this fab work Sue 🙂

    • Replies to Sue Baker>

      Comment by Christina posted on

      Totally agree with this and previous comments about managers' lack of knowledge. This goes all the way to the top, and is the result of a) years of failure to understand that there is more to management than admin, b)failure to properly equip people for it, and c) failure to properly select for it in the first place. The fact that you created a spreadsheet or organised an event in no way indicates management capability, and yet our promotion systems merrily tick boxes by reference to the irrelevant, resulting in the incompetent. Ignorance about employment law, team psychology, and the role of the manager is profound - and getting worse.

      • Replies to Christina>

        Comment by S 2 posted on

        Christina, you have a huge and valuable amount of insight into the real world of the Civil Service. Please consider getting involved - there is an email address in the comments;

        "However, if you - or any other civil servant - would like to contribute to the review beyond taking the survey, please send your ideas, thoughts and suggestions for improving how we tackle these behaviours to:

        Your messages will be forwarded to the review team (but please indicate whether you prefer to remain anonymous and, if so, no personal details will be included)."

        People like you - who can see the reality of the situation and who can articulate it - are exactly what is needed...

  28. Comment by BHD victim posted on

    From what I have experienced, when there is a complaint, informal discussions with management tend to fall in deaf ears. On the other hand, the way grievances are conducted lack objectivity, impartiality, transparency, honesty and integrity. Isn’t that part of the Civil Service Code?

    If a person raises a grievance against a manager, it goes to the senior reporting officer (SRO). The SRO finds someone in their Group at their level to conduct the grievance. The result is a STRONG resistance to admit that the manager is at fault. This leaves the person raising the complaint feeling uncomfortable as if they did not have a fair share. They are in a non-equal playing field. This makes the whole process unfair.

    I agree with Linda that unless an external, independent body is set up to manage the process of raising concerns formally and dealing with grievances fairly, nothing will be solved.....however tall the claims or talks.

  29. Comment by Russell posted on

    Even if the bully is an asset to the department in terms of what they deliver, if found guilty of bullying they should either be demoted or dismissed according to the seriousness of the accusations and the effect that their actions have had on their victim.

  30. Comment by Karen Cobb posted on

    I think this is a really good step forward. We have done a great deal of work in HMRC, Debt Management on Bullying and Harassment - with really positive results. Sessions with open conversation and understanding what bullying is - or isn't. Lots of interaction from everyone made these sessions really useful. The key factor that came out was that most issues can be resolved quickly through meaningful and frank conversation. Looking forward to working with the wider Department on this subject........

  31. Comment by A posted on

    I think it would be beneficial to ask specific higher grades to be "anti bullying champions". I also think the unconscious bias training should be mandatory for all grades, as should disability sensitivity training. Currently, I would think twice before disclosing any protected characteristic to my line manager.

  32. Comment by Maz posted on

    The issue with 'whistle blowing' on bullying and harrassment is the lack of support to the person whistle blowing. In an attempt to persue a case on my own behalf - me being a civilian and the bully being in uniform, I was advised that if I continued with my complaint that I would be moved from post during the investigation and not the bully!
    I therefore retracted my complaint. Is this how it should be dealt with-absolutely not. There should be equal support for both parties and resolution management after any investigation.
    This issue will never be resolved whilst there is unequal support and a better management basis to work from.

  33. Comment by Colin posted on

    Unfortunately BHD can go hand in hand with cronyism and favouritism. I see good people being marginalised from recognition and reward, and 'favourites' being rewarded for just doing their jobs. There is a lot of talk about 'unconscious bias', but a bigger issue is 'conscious bias'. Some people in positions of power prefer to believe what they want to believe rather than what the facts are, that equally can apply to preferring to believe in the 'good' in people as well as the 'bad'. I think all financial rewards should be independently scrutinised and approved outside of the department which seeks to grant them. On similar basis could all complaints for BHD be managed and investigated independently? As one earlier comment suggests, can we always trust the internal HR department to be truly independent?

  34. Comment by Angela posted on

    I started to complete the survey but gave up half way through. Bullying, harassment and discrimination may well sit together when considering individual misconduct issues. However there was no way to describe the discrimination I have faced as a wheelchair user throughout my 20years working in the civil service which exists at both an individual and institutional level. I appreciate the work that is being done to make the civil service better for disabled staff, but our buildings and processes continue to be inaccessible with those responsible seemingly lacking the knowledge to ensure this is not the case.

    • Replies to Angela>

      Comment by Susie Scarlott posted on

      Many thanks for taking the time to let us know about the difficulties you encountered with the survey Angela. I am part of the team supporting Sue Owen in carrying out the review referred to in her blog, and I am very sorry that you felt the survey didn't enable you to put your point of view across. We do want to hear about people's experiences about what is working well and what needs to be better so we can make sure that any changes we make are the right ones. If it would be helpful,​ I'd be happy to speak confidentially with you about your experiences?

  35. Comment by S posted on

    Although I agree to what the Civil Service is trying to stamp out, I am sceptical that nothing will change as has never changed before. The problem is wider than individuals in any organization. There is a lot of politics in any organization where staff are not treated fairly and equally. Nothing will change unless organisation's are spot checked by independent people from outside the organization and staff picked randomly in those organisations are asked about how they feel working for the department and how they are treated. HR are the main culprits as they do not operate transparently, hide figures under DPA, manipulate and favour individuals leading to discrimination and do not take things seriously when reported matters hence HR do not investigate or take any action. Personally I don't thing anything will ever change in Civil Service especially the level of discrimination that goes on when it comes to promotions and recruitments. HR even don't tell its staff what Civil Service Commission decides in terms of policies and actions suggested to improve. HR in my dept just don't tell us anything how bad can it get. Staff are entitled to know what goes on in Civil Service and what has been decided which we don't get to know anything. So whatever you are saying here Sue doen't filter down to the staff from our HR its just a paper exercise no action. Personally recruitment and promotions within Civil Service should be done centrally and not by individual depts to stamp out discrimination at dept level. There should be a special panel of independent interviewers for all Civil Service recruitment and promotion boards and should not be done individually by depts as there is wider level of discrimination when at most times colleagues,friends and favoured persons get the posts. Nothing to do with the ability, experience or suitability of an individual to do the job. The change has to come from the top of the Civil Service in some of the processes currently being operated with innovative ways of doing things and needs to be done fast or else nothing will ever change.

  36. Comment by Debbie posted on

    When working for DFID we had a similar problem in a country office. An independent IiP review was commissioned as a result, which enabled them to take an objective approach to solving the problem. As a result several things changed resulting in a much lower percentage in the following survey.

  37. Comment by AA posted on

    Agree and sooo true, to the above comment.The message of zero tolerance and putting this into ACTION must come from top-down. Moreso HR need to be impartial and not consider themselves only mouthpieces for managers especially when managers are the perpetrators.

  38. Comment by Debbie Edwards posted on

    Is there any data breakdown to see the gender, ethnicity or level of the 11%? Surely this would be a good means to look at possible trends or issues to focus efforts.

  39. Comment by Disillusioned posted on

    In HMRC the policies were the cause of discrimination, yet it took years before any changes were made. Concerns fell on deaf ears. A new department needs to be set up to police the internal activities of the Civil Service and to report any issues that arise. Experience tells me managers stick together and more junior staff are branded as toublemakers. Well meaning intentions. But change will not happen any time soon.

  40. Comment by Helen posted on

    I think there is a failing all over the civil service, as we expect people who have never been a people manager to adapt and survive in a role that requires a huge range of skills and abilities.
    The training and support we offer a new manager is poor and insufficient, and we wait until someone is in a management role before offering any kind of training! Why don't we offer this as CPD, so that when someone then applies for a role they have at least been tested in someway to see if they are capable, instead of allowing people to end up in positions that they are thoroughly unsuitable for.
    I truly believe that if we had a better process of recruiting, training and retaining our managers, many of the issues around bullying and harassment would cease.

    • Replies to Helen>

      Comment by Paul posted on

      100% agree with your comment Helen. This is something I have been saying for years & the lack of appropriate training for new managers is still very evident - with the resulting consequences.

    • Replies to Helen>

      Comment by Christina posted on

      Me too. There is a view that management is about administration. It's not. It's about getting the best from people, not just more of the same. Management qualifications are neither sought nor valued, and management training is superficial and generally related to internal processes.

  41. Comment by Jay posted on

    I have experiences harassment and bullying from both sides in the last few years and I am fully behind measures to improve culture and make reals changes.

    I have to say when I claimed it the informal process worked well in that the person and I discussed what happened, the impact and changed things so that it did not occur again. That person and I still meet socially now that they have left.

    Being accused of H&B by a member of my team which after investigation proved to be spurious so that someone could get a managed move I would please ask that the matter is looked at from both sides. I felt totally isolated whilst the matter was being investigated whilst my accuser made know in the office that they had put in a claim and demanded to move. When accused you have to stand aside and wait for the investigations to be conducted and only have the ability to engage once the other person has been interviewed which in my case left me waiting a number of weeks with a threat over me that my line manager and investigating officer could find against me. They didn't but still allowed the person to move which has left me feeling punished for doing my job as a line manager. Whilst others have since provided comments to support me the process needs to remember there are two sides and two people engaged.

    I don't want to water down in any way the actions and support for those subjected to H&B but having been on re receiving and of a claim and then read very carefully all the guidance and took both official and candid personal advice from a friendly HRBP time has not totally healed my feelings of isolation and weeks of worry.

    • Replies to Jay>

      Comment by Jean McK posted on

      I am surprised that there is no independent mediation service available in cases like yours, Jay. I am new to the Civil Service. In my previous employment, if an accusation were made, the first step is to use a mediation process in which both parties present their side of the story, alone with the mediator and also to the other person, and a skilled facilitator take them through the process. It isn't a solution, but it often does point up cases where there is some other agenda going on (e.g. wanting a transfer) or where people are not aware of the impact of their behaviour (e.g. thinking that being macho and dominant in meetings is showing "leadership" rather than just stifling discussions).

      It also helps in being clear that dealing with cases of underperformance can mean getting unpleasant feedback which is difficult, but sometimes necessary, and having managers who are empathetic and skilled in making it clear what support will be put in place to help the person in trying to improve. It should not be punitive, even if it isn't pleasant.

      And I am truly astounded that being absent from work because someone is ill results in some kind of onerous meetings and warnings. That is truly absurd! Where I worked before, we had 10 "sick days" and also had 3 or 4 "personal days" that we could take anytime we wanted. Let people be responsible for their own behaviours unless it becomes a problem!

  42. Comment by Kay posted on

    Don't be fooled by the 11% figure. In the 2016 CSPS survey results a similar figure was promulgated, but this obfuscated the reality for groups most affected by this issue. For example, in my department, approximately 13% of gay and lesbian people experienced bullying, harassment and discrimination, 20% of bisexual people, and 25% of people with 'other' minority sexual orientations - similar statistics for those with disabilities, minority ethnicities and so forth; far worse if taking into consideration intersectional perspectives between these characteristics. In the 2017 results, almost all transgender people who responded to the survey had experienced bullying, harassment and discrimination. So, the problem is far worse than what might be perceived from this '11%' figure. We, like many departments, have 'strand champions' and 'concerned leadership', but the reality is nothing more than lip service - and, frankly, those responsible for tackling this injustice are those directly involved in perpetuating it. We need an independent body - not necessarily a higher authority - to receive and investigate complaints, including those against the / an organisation / institution, be that in relation to matters of policy or process, action or inaction, and outcomes that result - be they positive or negative. Equally, we need more people, whether directly affected by this or not, to put their foot down on this issue on behalf of other's and for themselves; and, in good faith, challenge this disingenuous hypocrisy. If we don't, this matter affects us all.

    • Replies to Kay>

      Comment by Susie Scarlott posted on

      Many thanks for your comment Kay. I am part of the team supporting Sue Owen in carrying out the review referred to in her blog, and I thought it would be helpful if I responded to your comment. The 11% of people who have experienced Bullying, Harassment and/or Discrimination (BHD) first hand is an average and you are right that the figure is higher for some groups of people. Any level of BHD is unacceptable and we recognise from what people have told us so far during the review that they want to see positive messages about BHD translated into action. The work we have already started is aimed at ensuring anyone who experiences or witnesses poor behaviour, whatever their circumstances, is able to come forward and be reassured that they will be listened to and their concerns addressed. This includes reviewing HR policy to make sure it offers better support to individuals who witness or are experiencing difficult circumstances. We are also looking at how we can build more independence into the process and ensure people have genuine choice about who they speak to about concerns. We will report back on how this work is going when the review concludes in the summer.

  43. Comment by TB posted on

    Several have said it - independence. This is what is required in a credible grievance system. At present, if you complain about a line manager, their line manager has near carte blanche to simply say that you have no grievance and can strike it out. Clearly, the interests of the two may coincide significantly. However, if a member of the public complains or appeals against something we do, we invariably require someone independent from the events to investigate or consider the matter, this in the interests of natural justice and impartiality. Why the discrepancy? Someone who knows the subject of a complaint well and maintains a close working relationship with them should surely not be the one to consider a grievance about that person.

    • Replies to TB>

      Comment by DD posted on

      Don't forget one can't request someone from another district to hear a case, if one feels that one has been allocated someone that has a conflict of interest you can request someone independant but withing the business, I believe this is covered in the ACAS guidance which the departments guidance is linked and is a pre-requisite of law but to be sure a law adviser would need to be approached. It is worth considering all options before accepting the allocated person. Oh and you have every right to explore their background to see if they are appropriate.

  44. Comment by Dave posted on

    The problem is that, whatever they say publicly, many senior managers actually regard bullying as acceptable, especially when it is their friends who are doing it. If you set up a panel of junior staff members (SO and below) with very strong disciplinary powers [including the right to demand written apologies; to fine bullies; to enforce promotion bans and/or (in extreme circumstance) enforce demotions] nothing will change. When you have Board Members who think it acceptable (cool? giving them "street cred"?) to openly swear at staff, secure in the knowledge that they are senior enough to never face any consequences and "squash" anyone who challenges them, you are never going to get change.

  45. Comment by Dave posted on

    Is there an e-mail address that we can send Sue or her colleagues information relating to bullying that they may find of interest?

    • Replies to Dave>

      Comment by The Blog Team posted on

      Hi Dave, thanks for your question. If you have personally experienced or witnessed bullying or harassment, we would still urge you to complete the anonymised survey.

      However, if you - or any other civil servant - would like to contribute to the review beyond taking the survey, please send your ideas, thoughts and suggestions for improving how we tackle these behaviours to:

      Your messages will be forwarded to the review team (but please indicate whether you prefer to remain anonymous and, if so, no personal details will be included).

  46. Comment by Tim posted on

    If the overall percentage of bullying or harassment at has stayed the same for 9 years hardly a total commitment to change.

  47. Comment by A posted on

    Bullying and Harrassment is a very subjective and emotive issue. I've seen some staff who have denied that they have bullied people because they think their actions were the 'right thing to do' to address performance issues. I felt that I was severely bullied four years ago by a senior leader who probably felt that he wasn't being a bully. But, his actions caused me great stress where I couldn't sleep, I couldn't function properly at work and he pretty much tried to drive me out of my job. As a middle manager I didn't feel I would have any support from my Department if I had reported this so I left it and found myself another job in what became a fantastic team. But on reflection and talking to others in my peer group I could see that this so called leader was a manipulative ego driven bully with psychopathic traits (definitely no empathy). I've also seen where a senior leader consistently bullied her teams but was never pulled up about it because "she gets results". This is not a one off and appears to constantly happen in my department. So, for me, it's about tackling not just individual bullying but a culture of using performance to get results and if those results aren't forthcoming looking to target someone or some teams to lay the blame - this is what leads to bullying. I happily completed the survey, and look forward to actions not just to reduce a % figure of dissatisfaction in a staff survey but to transform how we work together in whatever part of the Civil Service we work.

  48. Comment by Alan posted on

    I totally agree with the coments of "Lee - S - and Linda" its the HR policy that is the main problem. Managers can and do bully staff for a little thing lite taking leave when off sick - they get away with this because they hide behind the policy!!

  49. Comment by Jovan posted on

    What a farcical process the prison service has in place when Senior Managers can lead investigations and complaints that are about themselves. This is a major fault that allows them to close ranks and continually deny complainants/victims the right to a fair hearing and the correct flow of information hiding behind statements such as " I can't tell you anything as it goes against data protection." As much as this group are ruthless our own support via NEC is ridiculous as they allow these situations to continue well in excess of 4 years! No individual can hope for a fair hearing so yes lets have an independent body as soon as possible.
    Lastly, there will be no hiding for me behind a name allowing anonymity so I urge you all to put pen to paper and support an independent body.

  50. Comment by dave posted on

    As with all these policy changes the proof is in the pudding. I have had experience of religious, racial and gender, sexual discrimination since working within HMCTS and I've not even been here two years! Some blame will lay with individuals but it's how the organisation engages with this that sets the tone.
    After talking directly with my Operations Manager and emailing the equalities and diversity team (who took 10 days to reply!) not one thing has happened. This culture of sweeping things under the carpet is immature and disrespectful, and can only entrench the, what I think is systematic, bigoted and hateful attitudes.
    So thank you Sue for the positive words but let's please see some change on the ground.

  51. Comment by Irfan Fazal posted on

    After someone has veted my own personal case I would like to publish what experience I had to highlight my case and also my team

  52. Comment by Em Jackson posted on

    Language is a powerful tool that like other powerful tools can easily become a weapon - you wouldn't use a hammer without instruction so how come people that ought to know better can get away with using language that's at best abrasive & at worst, outright unacceptable.
    This is intended without fear nor favour but our political masters have a duty to check their language because when that changes, the Civil Service's language will change.

  53. Comment by Aston posted on

    The developments and findings at the level you're operating at would never filter down to operational levels where it appears this sort of behaviour is most prolific. An external party would need to step in and do a proper deep dive into the causes, monitoring, mitigation and if needs be, sanctions. This seems like another tick box exercise and the pudding seems a long way from finished.

  54. Comment by Shirley posted on

    Please Please teach Managers to bring the best out in their staff, this is not happening in Attendance Allowance they seem to relish in bringing their staff down and picking fault with every little thing but never praising all the brilliant things that the staff do, moral here is very bad

  55. Comment by Stuart Holttum posted on

    The fastest way to deal with bullying is to ensure that where bullying is shown, the BULLY is moved to a new area, not the VICTIM (as happens in 99% of all cases).

    Staff who complain about a manager know that the likelihood is that the member of staff will end up moved to a new area, away from their friends and work interests, while the manager will be asked to do some retraining.

    If the Civil Service wants to be truly serious, it will make the default position one where the bully is moved, not the victim - and make that crystal clear in the guidance.

  56. Comment by S posted on

    Having personally experienced direct discrimination I can say the grievance process was mechanistic and totally unsupportive with one end in mind and that of a complete white wash. In my case because the evidence was so overwhelming that the HR Director General formally apologised on behalf of the department but no action was taken against the culprits. In fact, the director against whom my complaint was promoted two people to SCS1 level because they supported his agenda. The HMRC director in fact got away unscathed. There was no recompense for the disadvantage I suffered and I choose not to be bothered to go to the Tribunal because I saw the tribunal as part of the same civil service. On that basis I cannot be confident that any substantive change will follow unless examples are made of people, as a deterrent to others. If change is real, it should begin here, retrospectively, as in sexual harrasment scandal and now and not some future date because the desire for change will fizzle out once the media limelight is taken away.

  57. Comment by Carron Godden posted on

    I think it would be worth revisiting the policy on unacceptable customer behaviour too. This is another form of bullying and harassment where our policies seem to fall short of protecting staff. I've recently seen a case where a customer called repeatedly and unnecessarily, bullied, shouted and swore at staff to the extent that they were forced to end the call. They reported the incidents only to find that nothing happened to prevent him doing exactly the same thing the next day / week/ month because his behaviour, whilst distressing and abusive, never quite reached the level where DWP would act.

    • Replies to Carron Godden>

      Comment by Russell posted on

      I have had the "I pay your taxes" nonsense and such people should be told to not contact that department again as they will not be dealt with.

  58. Comment by A posted on

    Having witnessed and Experienced Bullying at first hand, its about time HMRC took it seriously.
    But we also need to put safe guards in for Vexatious Accusations made by individuals
    Either way the distress and worry caused to either parties is not fair.
    In all fairness it should be an independent body who deals with the Grievance.

  59. Comment by Cliff posted on

    I left a previous employment because of the behaviour of my boss, I am sure that many others have had similar experiences.

    My experience is that organisations would rather pay and cover the matter up and leave the bully in post to offend again, causing more expense, lost performance and distress among staff.

    It not easy to remove a bully from a senior post but organisations need strong managers who tackle the problem instead of removing the symptoms (i.e. victims). It's perverse to sack good honest employees and leave repeated offenders in highly paid positions of responsibility where they should be setting an example.

  60. Comment by R posted on

    Refers to zero tolerance of discrimination but then doesn't define discrimination - discrimination turns into misconduct in this survey. The staff survey, on the other hand, defines discrimination as "when an employer treats an employee less favourably than someone else, or when a working condition, policy, procedure or rule disadvantages one group more than another." Can someone explain why an employee or group of employees unable to move through their pay range due to a policy of not providing for adequate progression through their pay range is not discriminated against compared to their peers on the max of that same pay range?

  61. Comment by Jackie posted on

    The rules for tackling bullying/victimisation do not tackle it at a higher grade level. Senior managers can rearrange work to move or sideline staff they don't 'get on with' and there is nothing in place for that person to defend themselves from what is in effect a form of victimisation and simply due to a personality clash - and, more important, probably has nothing to do with actual work. An independent and/or external body might go some way to tackling this particular issue.

  62. Comment by TH posted on

    Anyone that has the privilege to be part of a new Regional Center will be confident that bullying and harassment matters are taken seriously. However the big concern is within the closing offices, as a toxic atmosphere can make it a very unpleasant environment to endure, that can impact on personal life. The timeliness of dealing with such bullying and harassment is key as an indication that employees are and remain valued.

    • Replies to TH>

      Comment by S 2 posted on

      TH - what makes you feel so confident that things will be different in the new regional centres? It will be the same senior managers, with the same toxic culture, just in a new building. Am I missing something here?

  63. Comment by ED posted on

    Fully agree with the suggestions of Linda. Currently you raise the issue in your own department. The offender (a few steps up the ladder) ensures that they 'grind you down' and as a result the problem increases.

  64. Comment by DAVID L. posted on

    The problem is that, in many departments, behaviour that by any objective standard is bullying is just regarded as "good line management". This applies particularly when it relates to rigid uncompromising enforcement of the strict letter of process and regulation in circumstances where it is unnecessary and disproportionate and causes collateral damage. It manifests itself in the imposition of unrealistic deadlines to met process related goals, disproportionate sanctions for failing to meet them and excessive drama when things go wrong, as inevitably they will.

  65. Comment by Dawn posted on

    Having gone through a Bullying and harrassment case which came out in my favour, it is clear that the system needs an over hall. I work as a nurse in DPHC and it took 3 years for my case aginst another nurse to be sorted out. In this time I had little support from senior management and was almost seen as a trouble maker for whistle blowing. Following this I have decided to quit, as the level of support avialable is next to non and would have been delt with much more efficiently in the NHS.

  66. Comment by Ann posted on

    I've witnessed bullying, I've reported it, it's effected me hugely to have time from work and then returning to a sickness warning for what I class as a work related incident, my time off was caused by my work place environment and witnessing a bullying manager and the cries of the victim being bullied, I should not have had a warning, I still think to this day that the situation could have been dealt with much better and I hope HR and higher management have learned from their mistakes, staff have said it was not dealt with properly and I was the one punished in the end and not the bully, so I believe more support should be put into supporting the witnesses too as well as the victims of bullying.

  67. Comment by m posted on

    I quite agree bringing in an independent is the way forward

  68. Comment by P posted on

    When the person perpetrating is a manager and is challenged by staff they then begin a campaign of victimisation to make life very difficult for the staff member. It is not identified and the staff member then faces months of further abuse for attempting to tackle the problem individual. PLEASE listen to people and if they are genuinely concerned PLEASE tackle the abuser and provide proper support to the staff member. Do not then follow that up with providing support to the manager enabling their activity. This has been happening for years and I don't see it changing but felt I had to speak albeit anonymously.

  69. Comment by Philip Le Marquand posted on

    As a union Rep I find my self as someone who is often a 'first responder' when staff feel bullied and harassed. Sadly however there seems to be such a culture of fear in the workplace that almost no-one feels strong enough to challenge the behaviour of management. The perception and often the reality is that managers support each other and not the person bullied.
    There seems to be a disconnect between senior management and EO / HEO and SEO level where there are good policies, and a real commitment to change seem never to make a significant impact at lower levels.

    • Replies to Philip Le Marquand>

      Comment by Susie Scarlott posted on

      I am part of the team leading the review on behalf of Sue Owen. We have worked closely with the national trade unions throughout the review and will continue to do so. We are deeply grateful to the unions for their contributions, both in advising us how best to take forward this critical review and for their insight and perspective into where things need to change. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with union colleagues to help deliver lasting improvements.

  70. Comment by Paul posted on

    As usual Senior managers are talking the the talk, but cannot walk the walk. They will tell you all the support you need is in place but privately they will also tell you that its just another tick in the box. Lets be seen to be doing the right things but hey we cannot tackle the issues they fall into that infernal Civil Service "hard to do box". Fifteen years of experience shows me that nothing has changed and in reality nothing will.
    Too much time and effort is spent on the easy to do and unimportant issues with the difficult issues being left untackled. All spin and window dressing!!!!!

  71. Comment by Michelle posted on

    It's a shame that in this day and age people no longer respect each other and support. I was always brought up to treat everyone the way you would want to be treated but society today has a negative attitude of everyone can say what they want without a thought of how this can impact others. I work in a very toxic environment where the department as a whole say nothing when it comes to bullying as everything gets referred to HR, who then don't manage and delay, leading to more stress for those who have spoken up. So the attitude is 'whats the point???'

  72. Comment by Carroll posted on

    I have recently been the victim of harassment, and bullying when I dared to raise an issue with a favored colleague. Having the audacity to raise concerns, I was then subjected to a conduct investigation and speedily removed from the role I was in. I complained through the grievance process and met with blinkered thinking, senior managers protecting senior manager, for fear it would reflect on their managerial skills. I can understand why people don' t raise grievances and I believe if they do they should be handled objectively outside of the Agency they are being experienced in.

  73. Comment by Jack Markiewicz posted on

    Really interesting comments on progress and I was struck by how people feel able to voice their feelings without feeling they will be victimised... that in itself gives a good indicator of the overall culture of the Civil Service, which, from my experience of working in other public bodies and the private sector is light years ahead of where many other employers are.

    • Replies to Jack Markiewicz>

      Comment by EddieM posted on

      I have to disagree Jack.

      The People Survey reports year on year that the vast majority reporting bullying, harassment, discrimination do not feel safe to complain and do not feel their complaints are taken seriously.

      Year on year the numbers rise and always it's in the same parts of the CS where the figures are at critical levels.

      No private enterprise could compete and survive with a third or more of its workforce damaged from a culture of bullying and discrimination, but the best private employers will have senior leaders acting to eradicate the pockets of bad practice that threaten the whole business operation and brand.

      That's how you identify real "brilliant" employers.

  74. Comment by S 2 posted on

    I totally agree with S and Linda, however, I feel that this is not going to be done as it will expose just how ingrained and wide spread bullying and harassment is within the CS, and judging from experience's now being exposed in the media, the fall back for most departments is damage limitation and protection of its reputation, so I feel the 'leaders' will never allow the CS true culture to be exposed to the public. That's one of the main reasons nothing has changed for so long. BUT I do live in hope and look positively to the future and outcomes/actions of this review. I think we should give credit where it is due and thank both John Manzoni and Sue Owen for at least providing a platform for us all to speak out/up. It does seem genuine and I eagerly await the way forward, especially for certain departments who's staff have reported very high levels of bullying and harassment. Maybe there needs to be an Ofsted type approach, where if a department cannot show progress, then the whole process is taken off then and independent inspector type people are parachuted in to force culture change. What do you think?

  75. Comment by Linda posted on

    The issue is that senior management refuse to acknowledge bullying exists, especially when this involves a manager and actively victimise those who raise concerns. Unless actions involve taking the power away from senior management to police their own department, there will never be fairness and justice for victims of bullying or those who raise concerns. Staff are crying out for an external, independent body to manage the process of raising concerns formally and dealing with grievances. Anything short of this, will resolve nothing.

    • Replies to Linda>

      Comment by J posted on

      i totally agree with you Linda, I too have been bullied and harassed and I ended up being investigated when I complained. we need managers and senior managers out of the loop as nothing ever comes out of it when people complain. rather than go to managers I think an e-mail address where people can put their concerns would be better then managers cant sweep it under the carpet.

      • Replies to J>

        Comment by L posted on

        I agree J, when you complain about the behaviours of your manager suddenly an investigation against you lands at your door. This is intimidation, it adds to your stress levels. If there was an independent body that dealt with grievances/appeals with recommendations going to the senior manager then we'd see these perpetrators becoming accountable for their actions and quicker results in stamping these institutionalised behaviours out. I'd like to see each dept having to publish their grievance data internally too.

    • Replies to Linda>

      Comment by Christina posted on

      Spot on, Linda. The system as it stands is a Morris Dance, with months and months of hopping about and hanky-flapping, but it's geared to repel, rather than to learn from, complaints.

    • Replies to Linda>

      Comment by SJA posted on

      I am in total agreement with this comment. With an external, independent body managing our grievance procedure I believe that there would be more justice. It is not fair that managers within a cluster investigate other managers grievance proceeedings.

    • Replies to Linda>

      Comment by M posted on

      I agree. In recent years there has been a lot of focus towards reducing bullying and harrassment across government departments. Materials have been written, mandatory courses designed for management/all staff to attend, yet in practice and through what I have seen and experienced, has made little difference. As someone above said, actions speak louder than words.
      From what I have experienced managers especially cannot be bothered to make such learning a priority. Even if it does not apply to them, they may be able to recognise occurrences to help others.
      It is very alarming to be on the receiving end of this behaviour and have little or no support that directly challgenges these injustices.

      There seems to be a general weakness in challenging bad behaviour and I have often seen management (together with HR) close ranks even if the 'wrongs' are undeniable.

      There is a general refusal to admit wrong (taking actual responsibility for actions and not the typical 'I am sorry you feel that way') and therefore the victim is left feeling even more dejected and demoralised. One has no idea of the depth of effect this can have from one person to another.

      A few years ago, I was once told by an occupational management service contracted to a government department that 'you'll never win against the civil service'. That said it all. Some of us have a perservering spirit but many just give up.

  76. Comment by S posted on

    How disappointing and uninspiring as a response from our most senior leaders. To think that engagement with departments through HR is a suitable response when HR is often where some of these poor behaviours are metred out and tolerated whilst HR and wider managers are also protected by HR senior leaders. What is required is an independent service being set up immediately that is not run by Civil Servants. Staff have to feel able to report incidents and have them dealt with efficiently and with appropriate measures to tackle staff who bully and harrass. Asking departments who have persistently failed to do this to now come up with solutions is not at all acceptable.

    • Replies to S>

      Comment by Marc posted on

      Couldn't agree more! HR is often supported by their own senior Managers whom often support the establishment Staff Officers/Managers of the employee being discriminated/bullied/harassed. If you cannot rely on a suitable solution or support route from your HR to offer independent and case-by-case solutions that don't rely on the employee having to seek confidence from another Manager/Superiors from their own workplace who in most instances are all in 'Cahoots' with each other! No independent support line, too much retributive consequence when you do report issues, too much border line discrimination that goes un-dealt with, underhand tactics by Managers that cannot technically be classed as bullying/harassment/discrimination. As 'S' said, remove the remediation from the hands of those that are the main issue. You need an independent, external and auditable service.......

      • Replies to Marc>

        Comment by Dianne Clewes posted on

        Hi Marc,
        I totally agree with your comments re manager and their senior officer being in cahoots. There needs to be an independent person who can review what is happening.

    • Replies to S>

      Comment by Kate posted on

      I completely agree. The higher in authority, I am convinced that less will be done as they have to find a replacement of a senior grade and more fall out. When you are petrified of your boss and a Grievance is the only option live in daily dread and left with no options and the bullying is passed to the next subject in the same department months later....

      • Replies to Kate>

        Comment by Dianne Clewes posted on

        Hi Kate,

        All too often bullies have been allowed to get away with their bad behaviour & attitudes. Once worked with someone who if she didn't like you that was it. She was well known for her bullying behaviour in another dept, if it had been checked there other people wouldn't have suffered later on.

    • Replies to S>

      Comment by Susie Scarlott posted on

      I am part of the team supporting Sue Owen in carrying out the review referred to in her blog, and I thought it would be helpful if I responded. Firstly very many thanks indeed to everyone who has taken time to comment on the blog. Your comments and insight are incredibly helpful in enabling us to understand what needs to happen for people to feel differently about working in the Civil Service. So far the review which Sue Owen has led has provided a great deal of insight into how people are feeling, as well as some pointers about what we could do to make things better. Many departments will also be holding internal conversations during April and May, to test out whether what we think we have heard is right and also whether the actions we are taking feel like the right ones. The feedback so far has told us very clearly that people are looking for actions rather than words and that they want to see evidence that behaviours where people are treated with dignity and respect are becoming the norm across the Civil Service.

      So we are taking a number of steps which we hope will help to improve things. We have already begun to look at how HR policy can offer more support to individuals who are experiencing difficult circumstances. It's also clear that being able to report concerns to someone outside the line management chain and having an independent element in investigations are really important and we are looking at both of these areas. We will report back on how this work is going when the review concludes in the summer.

      We are acutely aware that real change won't just happen and will take some time to achieve. A sustained commitment is needed across a number of areas for a genuine difference to be felt and this has been recognised by our most senior leaders. As Sue's blog says, the review will continue for a short time for us to capture more of your thoughts and insight. We will carry on engaging with as many people as we can via staff networks and other routes and in parallel, starting to make the changes people have said they want to see. In the meantime, please do continue to complete the survey and let us have your thoughts and input about what more we can do to make real change.

  77. Comment by Lee posted on

    It is not always the individual who is the bully or harasser, it can also be the department and its own policies that is the cause of bullying and harassment. There is no mention of such activity to review these where they are found. Departmental policy as a bully seems to be "accepted". I would like to see HR departments review certain policies under the zero tolerance approach.

    • Replies to Lee>

      Comment by dev posted on

      "carrot and stick" style of management , I assume this is how humanity exists. same in private sector , everywhere where work needs to be done

  78. Comment by Nick Jervis posted on

    Treat me differently so I get the same treatment as the majority are merely words.

    I know it is more than horrible when your every movement is being scrutinsed not only by your manager, but also by the people you work with who have sent you to Coventry and will not even say "Good Morning". How does the employer in this situation expect the employee to react?

  79. Comment by S.Dhillon posted on

    This just feels like words when I have personally experienced harresment and been told as I did not report the incident within 30 days no action will be taken,that is what needs changing,some people it can take months to speak out

    • Replies to S.Dhillon>

      Comment by Jonathan Miles posted on

      I have also been told that as the cause of the bullying happened more than 3 months prior to my complaint then the complaint can be submitted but not upheld. This advice was wrong as the bullying was ongoing for more than a year. The anxiety turned into reactive depression following this incorrect information and it has taken 2 years for me to feel properly well again.
      You really need to employ properly trained staff with some empathy and not the sort of people who I had the misfortune of dealing with.
      Until this subject is seen to be taken seriously nothing will change. Punish the bullies!

  80. Comment by Christina Craig posted on

    I think some simple statistical research and analysis is required. If you have an organisation in which 94-95% of discrimination complaints are not upheld (figures I recently acquired through FoI) something is clearly amiss.

    • Replies to Christina Craig>

      Comment by Helen Ross posted on


      If discrimination complaints are being properly investigated then 94-95% not upheld is a good thing.

      • Replies to Helen Ross>

        Comment by Christina posted on

        Helen - your primary assumption is the problem. The only clear inferences which can be drawn from this figure are that a) there are a lot of vexatious complainants around or b) the complaints are NOT being properly dealt with. I know which my money is on.

    • Replies to Christina Craig>

      Comment by Sandra posted on

      Well said Christina. I agree

    • Replies to Christina Craig>

      Comment by Livy posted on

      Christina, I asked under FOI for data of grievances/appeals upheld in my district and was told could not provide the data under the £600 ruling.

  81. Comment by KD posted on

    The 11% reporting bully, harassment and discrimination pales into insignificance compared to the 29% reporting the same where I work in HMRC.

    There is a clear culture of failure to recognise and support employees who raise these issues and all to often this is with the tacit approval of HR, who are too close to management to provide impartial assistance or too busy to get to grips with the problem.

    This requires a root and branch revue of practices with a full voice given to those employees who have been on the receiving end.

    • Replies to KD>

      Comment by P posted on

      HMRC has been like that for decades KD. They often move the person being bullied and not the persons bullying. Thus the bullies choose their work colleagues. So much for a selection and recruitment policy. For decades, Management in HMRC have had their 'head in the sand' about bullying and harrassment. Some even acquiesce and use it to their own advantage. HMRC bad management, has been the norm for a long time. A lot more could be said, but it would give to much away. I'm sure you understand KD. All the best.

    • Replies to KD>

      Comment by Carol O posted on

      Our tiny office (by comparison to BDC's etc) reported a 33% bullying & harassment in the previous years people survey, what did management do? Hold a people group session and call it good. It's simply not acceptable to be treated this way in this day and age and the civil service needs to be far more proactive than blogs and surveys. The B&H reported was not primarily attendance management focussed, it was genuine B&H by several managers which filtered down from district office. People should not feel disheartened attending work on a Monday morning.

  82. Comment by winston smith posted on

    Actions speak louder than words, and the actions need to come from the top. Until that happens it is all just fine words, but nothing will change.

    • Replies to winston smith>

      Comment by Jane H posted on

      Absolutely. The Civil Service excels at talking the talk but achieving little or nothing in terms of real change. Seen it more times than I can remember in several decades worth of working life. Bullying and harassment (personally experienced) is obviously one of the most emotive but sadly this principle applies in many areas.

  83. Comment by James Singers posted on

    I would be happy with the management believing me and not getting treated like I am in Primary 1. I am no match for Influenza and never will be. When I am ill I expect to be supported by my employer not given a warning!

    • Replies to James Singers>

      Comment by Simon posted on

      I hear that James. I wasn't ill for 15 months, then got floored by the virus in Jan/Feb. I was housebound for 4 weeks and lost 2 stone in weight. Not once was I contacted or offered any support whatsoever. I was told it wasn't 'exceptional'.. and now I have a written warning and an abject fear of getting ill again.
      I work two jobs. My second job called me regularly offering support and help, and to check on me. No written warning (they use the Bradford Factor). Perhaps we should get Gary Hoffman and the '4 C's' in like my other employer has.

    • Replies to James Singers>

      Comment by C posted on

      James I totally agree with you. I had influenza recently and am now facing a formal meeting about my attendance. It is a dreadfully dibilitating illness as you know. We are told not to come into work when we are ill. When you have flu you cannot get out of bed never mind go to work and yet we are 'punished' for poor attendance. The letter issued regarding attendance is threatening, demeaning and almost criminalises the individual. It has worn me down

  84. Comment by Nigel Dupree posted on

    It's not just the blatant or secret snide comments but, the quiet and consistent underpinning of perceived "approval deprivation", that may start in school days but, can continue into the workplace drip, drip, drip driving the performance anxiety that, ultimately manifests in presenteeism and comforting self-harming / self-medicating prior to stress related injury.

  85. Comment by Charlotte Smith posted on

    Having witnessed and experienced bullying and discrimination first hand, I welcome any effort to stamp this out. Bullying, harassment and nastiness has no place in society and if left unchecked can lead to more serious conflicts not only in the workplace but in all layers of society and life.

    • Replies to Charlotte Smith>

      Comment by Tracy Davies posted on

      Well said Charlotte, there is no support for those that speak out, I too have been a victim of bulling and harassment. There needs to be greater understanding from the top down and support for those who have the courage to speak out.

      • Replies to Tracy Davies>

        Comment by Phil Barns posted on

        Hi Tracy; as a TU rep I am fully aware that bullying and harassment of all types is a serious ongoing problem across MoD, having represented many members in complaints against management.
        PCS supports all our members who raise complaints.
        I would urge you, and anyone else who has experienced this kind of treatment, to join; as a Trade Union member, you are protected under chapter 52, section 146, paragraph 1 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.
        "A worker has the right not to be subjected to any detriment as an individual by any act, or any deliberate failure to act, by his employer if the act or failure takes place for the sole or main purpose of—
        (a) preventing or deterring him from being or seeking to become a member of an independent trade union, or penalising him for doing so,
        (b) preventing or deterring him from taking part in the activities of an independent trade union at an appropriate time, or penalising him for doing so,
        (ba) preventing or deterring him from making use of trade union services at an appropriate time, or penalising him for doing so..."

    • Replies to Charlotte Smith>

      Comment by H posted on

      I totally agree but how do we tackle this when the "perpetrator" doesn't perceive that they are harassing, bullying or discriminating. This isn't a new subject and the Civil Service has spent a lot of money in workshops etc on these subjects over the years. If we are looking for volunteers to tackle this then put my name at the top of the list.

    • Replies to Charlotte Smith>

      Comment by Em Jackson posted on

      All I can say is: I agree wholeheartedly.

    • Replies to Charlotte Smith>

      Comment by sanjay posted on

      totally concur. I have experienced it first hand on a number of occasions over the years and felt helpless when I had no support. No one wants to know.