The FDA has urged the civil service to do “more than just talk about being an excellent employer”, after a union survey revealed widespread concerns about how the civil service deals with allegations of bullying and harassment at work.
The FDA launched the confidential survey of members in the wake of high-profile complaints of harassment in several industries, including politics and the media. 45% of respondents to the FDA survey revealed that they had personally experienced harassment by a colleague.
While just under two-thirds of respondents said they had reported the incident either formally or informally, only 19% of those individuals said they were satisfied with how their report was handled.
Only one-third of respondents told the FDA that they felt confident a harassment complaint against a colleague would be properly investigated, while 40% said that they either had a ‘low’ or ‘very low’ level of confidence in the complaints process.
The survey also sought members’ workplace experiences with people not employed by their organisation, such as MPs, ministers, special advisers and contractors, an area where there is currently little or no complaints process for large swathes of the civil service.
One in seven (14%) respondents said they had been personally harassed by an individual from outside their organisation – but 34% said that they had not reported the incident. Of those who did, 73% said they were unhappy with the outcome.
While fewer than one in seven of those took part in the survey (17%) said they had been personally accused of harassment or bullying by a fellow employee, a majority (58%) of those who had been told the FDA that they were not satisfied with the way the accusation was handled.
Respondents raised particular concerns over the length of time taken to investigate complaints, and the lasting reputational damage they could suffer even when complaints were later shown to be unfounded.
The FDA also used the survey to gauge confidence in its own support services. While 60% of respondents expressed confidence that the FDA would support them if they brought a case to the union’s attention, 11% of those who took part reported either a ‘low’ or ‘very low’ level of confidence in the union’s support.
Responding to the survey, FDA Assistant General Secretary Naomi Cooke said: “Firstly, I want to thank all those who took the time to fill in our survey. Some of the issues raised are clearly very recent and very raw, whereas others occurred many years ago but have left a lasting impact.
“What is abundantly clear is that there are real concerns about how bullying and harassment are addressed, with neither those bringing complaints nor those who are accused feeling subject to a fair process. For too long the civil service has responded to many of these issues by moving people around departments. This has prioritised short-term problem avoidance over natural justice and long-term issue resolution.
“The FDA will be working with CSEP, departments and others to ensure the civil service does more than just talk about being an excellent employer and takes the necessary steps to give its staff real confidence in this objective.”