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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Office bullies

The Mercury: Office bullies [18jan06]

ONE in four Tasmanian public-service workers have reported being bullied in the past 12 months.

In a survey of nearly 11,000 state public servants, 26 per cent said they had been bullied or harassed in the past year.

And 40 per cent, or two in five, said they had witnessed bullying and harassment.

And most thought complaining about a grievance would bring a backlash.

Claims of favouritism and conflicts of interest were also common in the survey by the State Service Commissioner.

About 60 per cent believed decisions were "fair, objective and ethical".

Two-thirds believed their boss encouraged them to avoid conflicts of interest and would correct inappropriate behaviour -- leaving more than 3000 who did not.

"Along with work overload, bullying is the primary issue raised with us by members within the state service," Community and Public Sector Union acting general secretary Mat Johnston said.

"It results in increased stress-related absence, diminished work performance, breakdown in work and personal relationships, the list goes on," Mr Johnston said.

"The perception by some is that state servants are lazy and treading water in cruisy jobs. This couldn't be further from the truth," he said.

The survey was done by 38 per cent, or 10,966, of the state's workforce, from 15 agencies including Police, Health and Human Services, Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources, Tourism, Parks Heritage and the Arts and Department of Premier and Cabinet.

Commissioner Robert Watling said strong values of community service and fairness stood out while results generally were similar to results in other states.

He said employees had indicated that they had their lowest level of confidence in the way their managers handled badly-performing employees.

Mr Johnston said there were heartening findings but disturbing trends in the survey, which he said was the biggest and best attempt to quantify the feelings of workers in Tasmania.

He expected a similar picture in the private sector.

"I consider the results to pretty accurately display and growing phenomena in the Australian workforce.

"The culture of bullying needs to be addressed urgently."

He called on the public sector to lead the way.

Mr Johnson said the workplace-relations changes would encourage the negative behaviours revealed in the survey.

Meanwhile, Mr Watling said the state service would find value in minimising bullying because of the negative consequences for the person being bullied and those who saw it.

Those observing it had far less confidence in the principles of the service generally, he said.

"The three issues identified by both of the analyses as being key areas for improvement were building a fair internal-review system, improving the quality of leadership and creating a more rewarding workplace," his report said.

"Other potential priorities ... included better managing performance, encouraging employee consultation and input [and] strengthening the perception of merit in recruitment and promotion decisions."


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