How to protect yourself from upward bullying

- Wednesday, April 27, 2016

 

A quarter of Australian bosses are the targets of upward bullying according to a study conducted by Griffith University. Upward bullying occurs when a manager is subjected to bullying behaviour by their subordinates.   Recent research presented at the 10th International Conference on Workplace Bullying in Auckland last week presented new research on the dynamics of upward bullying.

The study conducted by Eileen Patterson, Sara Branch, Sheryl Ramsay and Michelle Barker investigated the power dynamics of upward bullying cases through qualitative research methods involving semi-structured  interviews with six managers from different levels and industries. The research findings indicate that for upward bullying to occur, the normal power imbalance in favor of the manager or supervisor has to be undermined  and the legitimate authority of the manager has to be diminished or removed.

As I have stated in previous blogs,

“One of the main triggers for upward bullying is organisational change.”

This may be a change of working conditions, management or processes.  The influence of one or two disgruntled, negative employees can be profound.  New managers stepping into entrenched group dynamics stand little chance if the team is determined to make life difficult for the new manager. Employees may blame their manager and respond by bullying them.

Upward bullying has the potential to damage a manager's mental health and well-being.  It can cause psychological stress, anxiety, and even depression.  Managers may also lose confidence in their abilities and feel less satisfied in their jobs. Upward bullying also has the potential to impact the bottom line. It can result in lost productivity, increased absenteeism and higher staff turnover, as well as the cost of intervention programs.  

Bullying of managers is characterised by gossip, back stabbing, disrespect, disobedience and a failure to comply with rules. Bullies will question competence and influence newer staff through misinformation. Strong existing or out-of-office relationships with senior managers can also have a significant negative effect on the ability of a manager to manage.

Patterson et al found that the loss of a manager’s legitimate power was caused by a lack of organisational support or staff members perceiving the manager to be an illegitimate leader. Once this swing in power occurs, the manager becomes vulnerable to bullying behaviour from subordinates. The type of behaviours often inflicted include:

  • use of an organisation’s policies and procedures
  • coercive tactics such as humiliation and intimidation
  • use of expertise or access to information to gain an advantage; and
  • ingratiation to those in important positions to gain access to formal power
Strong support for managers by senior management is critical in preventing upward bullying.  So, let’s say you are a manager and you find yourself in this position with little support and disgruntled employees?   Here are my tips based on the studies so far that might help:
  1. Seek support from your management
  2. Develop and maintain close working relationship with your senior managers and powerful people in the business
  3. Ask for coaching or seek mentors to assist with your self-confidence – you’re going to need it!
  4. Resist fighting back with bullying behaviour towards your team
  5. Don’t make significant changes to existing work practices until you have established your credibility
  6. Find a legitimate way to demonstrate your value to the team – find your thing!
  7. Bluff – it might just be a long game of poker.

Self-confidence, awareness of team dynamics and ability to manage recalcitrant and possibly underperforming staff are necessary in these cases.

So it might be a case of keeping your enemies close, your bosses closer and bluffing your way through until you prove your worth!

Supporting new leaders and managers in your business will go a long way to helping them build and maintain legitimate authority within the workplace. WISE Workplace together with its allied businesses can help you provide the right type of support - be it coaching, leadership skills or managing under adversity. For more information on how we may be able to support legitimate leadership contact 1300 580 685.  

Action Needed on Bullying in Victorian Public Health Sector

- Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Bullying Entrenched in Victorian Public Health Sector

The larger the organisation, the greater the potential for bullying and harassment to become ingrained in workplace culture. When this happens, the victim can become the perpetrator, and the cycle continues. The situation may be made worse by management acquiescence, especially if the attitude is “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

The Victorian Auditor-General released its report into Bullying and Harassment in the Health Sector recently. It made many findings about how widespread the problem is, and also some strong recommendations for change. 

Background to the report

The Victorian Government commissioned a series of audits that looked at the occupational health and safety of Victorian public sector health workers. One audit considered whether the risk of workplace bullying and harassment was being effectively managed. 

This was the subject of the report. The report noted that serious harm can be caused by bullying and harassment. In 2010, it was estimated to have cost the Australian economy up to $36 billion per annum.  

The report also noted that the problem hits the public health sector particularly hard with:

  • Staff retention issues. 
  • Cost of recruitment and training. 
  • Low morale.
  • Management time spent dealing with the issue. 
  • Legal costs.
  • Damage to reputation. 

A disappointing reflection on leadership
The Auditor-General did not mince words, saying: 

“The leadership of health sector agencies do not give sufficient priority and commitment to reducing bullying and harassment within their organisations.”

The report also found that there were no proper processes in place for early intervention of bullying and harassment issues. More guidance and support was required to improve the public health sector’s management of inappropriate behaviour.

The more specific findings included that:

  • Management did not take bullying and harassment seriously as an OHS issue.
  • Steps were not being taken to identify and minimise risks.
  • There was a consistent failure to hold senior staff accountable.
  • Incidents were under-reported, possibly because of fear of repercussions, the mistrust of human resources staff, or the normalisation of the behaviour. 
  • Policies and procedures were ineffective at regulating inappropriate behaviour because of lack of understanding, ineffective implementation and failure to comply. 
  • Training and education were ineffective because of being voluntary, inconsistent or insufficient. 
  • Early intervention was generally inadequate and staff mistrusted the process.
  • There was no systematic or effective response to formal complaints.
  • There was ineffective guidance and assistance to help the sector implement best practice measures. 

The report noted that in 2013, more than one quarter of Victoria’s public health employees had experienced bullying or harassment. 

The report’s recommendations

With such troubling findings, it is no surprise that the report has made a long list of recommendations. They include:

  • Implementing risk management procedures to identify and minimise inappropriate behaviours.
  • Implementing policies and procedures that are clear and set out accountability for dealing with complaints. Ensuring compliance with policies and procedures.
  • Fostering a positive workplace. 
  • Encouraging reporting of behaviour by taking action on complaints. 
  • Developing and implementing mandatory training on bullying and harassment issues. 
  • Proper documentation of any issues concerning inappropriate behaviours. 
  • Striving for early intervention to minimise damage.
  • Implementing a formal complaints procedure. 
  • Making human resource departments more effective in dealing with the issues. 

The Victorian health sector certainly has a huge job ahead of it. With so many employees having first-hand experience, there is little doubt that there is an entrenched culture of inappropriate behaviour in many of the public health agencies. 

However, the report and its ensuing publicity is perhaps a positive first step in fixing the issues and there is potential to implement sweeping change. We will monitor the progress of the reforms with great interest. 

In the meantime, we know that effective policies and workplace culture play a huge role in the prevention of bullying and harassment. If any of these issues are ringing alarm bells for you and your organisation, WISE Workplace can help. We have vast experience in dealing with bullying and harassment issues and we are just a phone call away. 

The State of Bullying in Victoria

- Wednesday, April 20, 2016
The State of Bullying in Victoria

There has been a deluge of reports coming out of Victoria in the last few months focusing on bullying and harassment. 

The hair-raising antics of former Geelong Mayor Darryn Lyons are detailed in the parliamentary inquiry report released last week. Lyons is reported to have threatened, bullied and displayed other unacceptable behaviours towards staff. 

He is not alone. Earlier in the month, the Auditor-General’s report on Bullying and Harassment in the Victorian Health Sector commented that the sector was unable to prevent or reduce inappropriate behaviour, including bullying and harassment. The report also found that key controls which could reduce the risk to employees were either “inadequately implemented, missing or poorly coordinated.”

In December 2015, the Independent review into sex discrimination and sexual harassment including predatory behaviour in Victoria Police report was released by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC). This report found an entrenched culture of what it called ‘everyday sexism’ and a high tolerance for sexual harassment giving rise to significant costs for the organisation. 

What are the statistics?

According to the VEOHRC review, 40% of female employees had personally experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime (higher than the national average of 33%), and 20% had experienced sexual harassment in the police within the last five years. 

Across the Victorian public sector, survey results show 25% of health agency employees and 25% of female police officers have reported being victims of bullying. But interrogating the figures shows significant increases in reports in certain employment groups. A study in 2014 by Monash University into bullying found that 40% of nurses had experienced bullying or harassment within the previous 12 months. 

Similar figures were found in the Royal Australian College of Surgeons (RACS) report, with 39% of surgeons experiencing bullying, and 19% reporting having experienced harassment in the previous 12 months. 

One perpetrator, multiple victims

While the studies found entrenched cultures that permitted bullying and harassment through lack of effective action, it is likely that affirmative action would have a profound positive effect on staff welfare. The inquiry into Victoria Police found that 52% of those who reported being sexually harassed were aware that others were also victimised, and in 81% of cases it was by the same perpetrators. 

What the reports have in common

The studies found many similarities in the structural causes for the prevalence of inappropriate conduct. In particular, they all found there was:

  • Widespread underreporting.
  • Inadequacies in the response when matters were reported. 

When participants were asked why they didn't report, the two dominant reasons were: 

  • Belief that no action would be taken.
  • Fear of retribution. 

Other studies have found that: 

  • 67% of people who experience bullying and harassment do not report it. 
  • Of these, 53% don’t report because they believe that no action will be taken, and 42% believe that reporting will have a negative impact on their career (responders could tick more than one item). 
  • The RACS survey reported 44.9% of respondent’s feared repercussions, but this figure increased to a staggering 93.4% for 31 to 35-year-olds. Presumably this group is heading towards the end of a long and arduous qualifying period. 
What can organisations do?

Changing the culture across a wide range of organisations is no easy task and will require a whole-of-business approach, and a variety of strategies to make a difference. 

Having clear codes of conduct and policies on how to respond are necessary, but just having them is clearly not enough. Codes of Conduct must be known, used and acted upon. 

It is the will to tackle bullying and harassment that is needed now, and this requires training and accountability on how to respond to complaints or conduct when it occurs. 

The development of a clear procedure for responding and investigating complaints is an integral part of this process. Our flow chart on responding to complaints helps bring clarity where confusion lies. Download the free chart, and take a look at our Workplace Investigations Toolkit for expert advice and guidance on a procedure that won’t let you down and will support your managers in doing the right thing. 

WISE Workplace also offers tailored training on all aspects of managing workplace behaviour, so whatever your organisation’s particular issue, give us a call and see how we can help make your workplace a better place. 

Social Identity and the Spiral into Corruption

Jill McMahon - Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Social Identity and the Spiral into Corruption

Imagine this. Alice, new to her workplace, is given a company credit card for expenses such as client entertainment and work-related travel. 

She notices that other employees use their credit cards to purchase lunch, even when they’re not entertaining clients, and has heard a couple of people saying that they use it to buy petrol for their family cars.

Alice is told by her workmates that everyone does it, no one ever checks and that the company expects and budgets for it. So Alice starts buying her lunch with her company credit card and uses it to buy petrol for personal vehicle use.

Alice has just stepped onto a slippery slope, spiralling into corruption. And this kind of ‘harmless’ activity can cost an organisation millions of dollars. 
What is social identity?
Social identity stems from peer group pressure. 

If the ‘in’ or popular group within a workplace is engaging in corrupt activities, some workers will identify with them and go along with the activities, help to cover up the activities, or simply remain silent.

Their need to be accepted as part of the group is a higher priority than their own personal values. 

Enforcement of social norms

Like Alice, a worker can be unwittingly drawn into corruption. The attitude that “this is how we do things” can normalise the corrupt behaviour. 

When the norms are enforced by the group, further issues can arise, the most common one being bullying, especially group bullying. This can occur when:

  • A group of workers gangs up on one worker. 
  • One worker is carrying out the bullying while others passively witness the behaviour but don’t stop or report the conduct.  

An example of group bullying is the spreading of gossip or rumours about an employee. 

Another way that employees unwittingly join in corrupt activity is when they don’t wish to rock the boat. They may feel pressured to take part, or keep quiet about it, because they fear being bullied. 

Management acquiescence

Sometimes, management may be aware of corruption but decides to ignore it because the corrupt group is performing well and meeting targets. 

Highly skilled workers remain a big issue for organisations as well, because they are so valuable that potentially they may be able to get away with corruption. It can be extremely difficult to bring these employees back into line without losing them to competitors. 

There’s also the issue of losing highly skilled employees because they are being bullied. This could be damaging to an organisation, not just because of the loss of the expertise, but also because of any potential workers’ compensation claim for stress, or any application made under the anti-bullying provisions of the Fair Work Act.

What can be done?

Organisations need to identify what causes corruption in the first place. Usually one of the biggest causes is opportunity – if no one checks up on employee activities, the opportunity exists. Employers need robust systems for accountability. 

Another cause can be workplace culture. If employees are unhappy in their work environment and see others benefitting from corrupt activities, they may more readily commit corruption. Employers need to educate staff about unacceptable behaviour, and foster a positive work environment.

Anti-bullying measures are also very important.
Whistleblowing
An employee reporting corruption is often the only way that it can be detected and stopped, particularly if it is embedded. 

The federal government leads the way, with legislation that allows employees to report corruption via a whistleblowing hotline without fear of retaliation or reprisal.   

Employers can also set up internal whistleblowing systems to encourage reporting. 

Employee corruption in the workplace can be a difficult and complex issue. The reasons an employee may engage in corruption are not clear-cut and may highlight underlying issues.

If you suspect employee corruption or would like to take steps to prevent it, WISE Workplace can help with education about corruption and prevention strategies, including a mechanism to allow employees who witness corruption to report it. 

FWC Contradicting Public Expectations on Child Protection?

- Wednesday, April 06, 2016
FWC Contradicting Public Expectations on Child Protection?

Child protection and child abuse are issues of such a serious nature that they’re currently the subject of their own Royal Commission. But a recent decision of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) seems to fly in the face of the Royal Commission’s recommendations, as well as the advances in reportable conduct legislation in NSW.  
The FWC decision

O’Connell v Catholic Education Office is the case in question. O’Connell was a teacher who had been employed by the NSW Catholic Education Office (CEO) since 1979, in various teaching roles.   

In December 2014, allegations arose that he had behaved inappropriately towards a child. He was put on leave by the CEO. In February 2015, he was formally charged with indecently assaulting a child under the age of 16 years.   

O’Connell denied the allegation, and asked for alternative duties, suspension or leave until the charge was determined. The CEO instead terminated his employment.   

In August 2015, the charge was withdrawn.   

O’Connell claimed that he had been unfairly dismissed as the CEO could have arranged for him to work in an alternative role, pending the charges being determined.   

The CEO claimed that once O’Connell had been charged, he became a “disqualified person” under the Child Protection (Working with Children) Act (the Act). It had no choice but to terminate, as the Act prohibited his continuing employment in child-related work.   

The CEO used this as a jurisdictional argument – as there was no unfair dismissal, the FWC could not determine the matter.   

The matter was heard by the full bench of the FWC.   

Untangling the web of legislative language  
The FWC said that its duty was to give the words the meaning that had been intended by parliament.   

It found that there was no barrier in continuing O’Connell’s employment – he could have been redeployed to other duties that involved no contact with children.   

It also found that parliament was unlikely to have intended termination of employment whenever there needed to be further inquiries about a child protection matter.  This could have disastrous consequences for many innocent workers.   

The FWC looked to the second reading speech of the Act to determine parliament’s intention:

“Employers with the capacity to do so may suspend a barred worker or redeploy such a worker to a non child-related role.”    

Because termination was by choice and not mandated by legislation, there was jurisdiction for the FWC to hear the unfair dismissal claim.   
Inconsistency with other decisions
FWC considered the decision of Mahony in which a teacher’s employment contract had been frustrated because the criminal charges against him meant that he could not work with children.     

It found that the Mahony decision had been made without the benefit of extensive submissions that could be considered before reaching a conclusion. The FWC said it was not bound by Mahony.   

It also considered the case of Fraser, in which it was found that employers have a choice about whether to comply with or ignore laws requiring termination of employment. It said that this decision was wrong.  

What does it all mean?

The FWC has made it clear that its  O’Connell decision is now the authority for similar matters.

But it seems at odds with NSW’s working with children police check requirements, which are considered some of the most rigorous in all of Australia. This was particularly evident in the case of BQY, who eventually won the right to become a registered teacher after a fairly minor encounter with a former student.    

There is also anticipation that the Royal Commission will recommend that uniform child protection laws are established in Australia. This, along with the recent inquiry into how reportable conduct legislation has been operating in NSW over the past 16 years, now makes the law in this area very uncertain.   

The FWC decision is unlikely to sit easily with the other anticipated child protection changes, but as a full bench decision, it carries great weight. It may be a case of parliament having to make changes to the wording of the legislation to ensure that the law falls into step with public expectations and is consistent with political response to this very important issue.   

Can IBAC Become a Corruption Watchdog with Bite?

- Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Greater powers for corruption watchdog

With corruption costing the world economy an estimated 2.6 trillion dollars per year, you can bet that organisations are sitting up and taking note. Plenty of them are losing big money, and a lot of individuals are getting rich by underhanded means. 

The Victorian Government took action to stem the scourge of corruption in 2011, setting up the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) to investigate the Victorian integrity system with the aim of improving accountability and transparency. 

But the body has been criticised as being a toothless tiger, and with the release of its first report to the Victorian Government, the question now is whether IBAC will become a watchdog with bite. 

What is corruption?

Corruption is a broad term which, in a workplace context, may range from serious frauds and abuses of power to lower level activities that violate the trust that an employer places in employees. 

The report defines corruption as the exploitation of public or private office for personal gain. It can take many different forms, including bribery, extortion, embezzlement, fraud and conflict of interest. 

Corruption can be so widespread and occur in so many forms that the report estimates that it adds a staggering 10% to the running costs of organisations worldwide. 

IBAC’s powers

IBAC has the power to investigate serious corruption in the public sector or police misconduct. But it does not have the power to investigate:

  • Matters in other states or territories.
  • Federal politicians or Commonwealth Government departments or agencies. 
  • Matters in the private sector. 
  • Minor issues concerning police officers.
  • Court judgments or traffic decisions. 

Some commentators have criticised IBAC’s powers, saying that the definition of corruption is too narrow, and that corrupt conduct has to be “serious” and also criminal in nature before IBAC can investigate. 

IBAC’s powers are also much more limited than its NSW equivalent body, the ICAC. 

The report’s recommendations

In all, the report made 13 recommendations to the Victorian Government, including that the definition of corruption be broadened to include additional criminal offences. 

It recommended an ongoing review of the definition of corruption to include non-criminal conduct in the future. 

The government’s response

A new Bill  is currently before the Victorian Government. If passed, the new legislation will:

  • Expand the scope of IBAC’s powers so that suspicion of “serious” corrupt conduct is not required. Suspicion on reasonable grounds that the conduct is corrupt will be enough for IBAC to become involved. 
  • The scope of people who can be investigated by IBAC will include non-public officials.

But commentators continue to express doubt over how effective the proposed changes will be, even if they are enacted. 

Corruption is a pervasive issue that is increasingly costly to organisations worldwide. It has perhaps gone unchecked for far too long. The Victorian Government took a positive step to remedy this by establishing IBAC, but even with the anticipated expansion of its powers if the legislation is passed, there are doubts about whether it has enough bite to address this huge issue. It is fair to say, however, that IBAC is here to stay, and the Victorian Government may have a few more attempts at amending its watchdog’s powers. 

WISE Workplace can assist organisations to respond  to fraud and corruption threats by enrolling in the Cert IV Government Fraud Control. This specialised program offers participants the opportunity to cover all core competencies in an intensive 3 day short course followed by self paced online study. Book your place for our next course in Melbourne on 18-20 May 2016

Mitigating Factors and Dismissal - What is Relevant?

- Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Mitigating Factors and Dismissal - What is Relevant?

If you’ve ever conducted a disciplinary interview with an employee, you may have asked them if there are things they’d like you to take into account when making your decision about how to handle the matter.  

These are often referred to as ‘mitigating factors’, and are an important part of the disciplinary process. But we find employers can be uncertain about the concept, and what is relevant. 

And rightly so – mitigating factors are fluid, changing and evolving depending on the circumstances of a matter.

the Legislative basis for mitigating factors

The Fair Work Act sets out the criteria for the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to consider whether a dismissal is harsh, unjust or unreasonable, including whether there was:

  • A valid reason.
  • Procedural fairness.
  • Opportunity for the employee to be represented. 

It also requires that the FWC consider “any other matters that [it] thinks relevant.” 

This is the provision under which the FWC will consider mitigating factors – any background circumstances that might explain the conduct or reduce the severity of the penalty for the employee.

It is a deliberately vague provision, as mitigating factors could include just about anything, depending on the circumstances of the individual. 

Employers must consider these factors

Because the FWC must consider mitigating factors when determining an application for unfair dismissal, it follows that employers must also consider mitigating factors when making disciplinary decisions, including whether to terminate employment. 

This also serves as a reminder to employers that when deciding whether to terminate employment, all of the employee’s circumstances need to be taken into account to arrive at a “reasonable” decision. It is especially important to ask the employee whether there are any matters that they would like to be taken into account.

The importance of this was highlighted in the recent decision of the FWC in Mary-Jane Anders v The Hutchins School.
A real world example
Anders was a maths teacher and an academic administrator, employed by the school. She reported struggling with her workload and not long afterwards suffered a breakdown and took leave. After returning to work, she again broke down and took further leave. 

In the meantime, the school had removed her from her administrative role. She took issue with the allocation of classes that she was to teach. 

Her relationship with the school’s leadership broke down, and some of her colleagues refused to work with her. She used social media and emails to colleagues to vent her concerns.

The school’s deputy head terminated her employment following an investigation, citing a total breakdown in the employment relationship. Anders claimed unfair dismissal in the FWC.

The FWC made findings about bias, but also found that there were some significant mitigating factors which the school ought to have taken into account when investigating the matter. These included:

  • Anders’ previous good employment record. 
  • Her mental illness diagnosis.
  • Her husband’s critical illness at the time when allegations were first raised with her.
  • The school’s failure to address earlier problems in the relationships between Anders and some of her colleagues.

In light of these factors, the FWC found that, even though Anders’ emails and social media comments were poorly judged, the termination of her employment was harsh and there was no valid reason for dismissal. 

But even so, because her relationship with the school was so broken down, the FWC awarded compensation instead of reinstatement. 

The need to take mitigating into account

This decision is a reminder to employers of the importance of taking into account any mitigating factors. If an employee’s conduct is out of line or serious enough for termination to be considered, employers should do everything possible to get to the bottom of the matter. 

In our experience, the more thoroughly employers try to understand an employee’s conduct, the more likely the employer’s investigation will be seen as fair and reasonable. For further information about mitigating factors and how to address them, WISE Workplace can help. We’re just a phone call away. 

Have You Been Accused of Bullying or Harassment at Work?

- Wednesday, March 09, 2016

We first ran this blog in 2014 and from the number of comments we received, it clearly raised issues that resonated with many of our readers.  So by popular demand here it is again.  We welcome your comments, as always.

Bullying and harassment legislation is in place to protect employees from being bullied by their co-workers. If you have been accused of bullying at work, it’s important to follow company procedure and co-operate with any internal or external investigations.

Although most bullying and harassment claims are legitimate, sometimes accusations can arise from misunderstandings, communication difficulties or can be brought against a manager, co-worker or subordinate out of malice or revenge for a perceived slight.

Accusations of bullying commonly occur where managers or supervisors have provided feedback to an under performing employee, or taken disciplinary measures against them. Management direction isn’t considered bullying, and as long as any actions taken were documented and reasonable, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

If you are managing employees and providing feedback on performance it’s important to document all your discussions, and ensure that any actions you take are in line with organisational policies. This can help protect you against false accusations of bullying, and make the investigation process easier and more straightforward if a situation is escalated.

If you have been accused of bullying at work, it’s important to follow company procedure and co-operate with any internal or external investigations. If you are accused of workplace bullying, even if you don’t believe it’s justified, it’s important to be open-minded and listen to the other person’s perspective. Here are a few suggestions to help you deal with an accusation of bullying or harassment without making the situation worse:

  • Remain calm if someone approaches you about your behaviour. Although it can be extremely upsetting to be accused of bullying, getting angry will only aggravate the situation.
  • If you believe that the accusations are false, speak to a senior level employee or your HR department. In many cases where bullying stems from a misunderstanding, the matter can be resolved with mediation from a third party
  • Be prepared to change your behaviour or style of communication. It may be that a few modifications to your actions or manner of communication is all that’s needed to resolve the situation. It’s important not to get defensive and to stay open to any constructive feedback you receive.

With the recent increased awareness of workplace bullying, more employees are becoming aware of the ability to lodge a bullying complaint, especially if they feel they are likely to lose their job, or as a form of revenge against a supervisor.

To reduce the likelihood of false claims, it’s a good idea for managers to provide training to employees to help them distinguish between normal management direction and actions, and bullying. Many bullying claims are a result of misunderstandings or miscommunication and these can easily be prevented with the right training, clear expectations, performance indicators, and documentation of feedback and disciplinary actions taken against individuals.

False claims can be extremely distressing to the person who is wrongly accused of bullying, and can even be a form of harassment in themselves if they are taken out for malicious purposes.

Corruption and Deviant Behaviour in the Public Sector

Jill McMahon - Thursday, March 03, 2016
Corruption and Deviant Behaviour in the Public Sector

Corruption is a significant issue in Australia’s public sector. It can exist in many forms with varying degrees of severity. But even though its existence is well documented, it remains difficult to address because witnesses can be unwilling to report their experiences. 

There can be many reasons for this, including social pressures, the use of legitimate processes to hide corrupt behaviour, and using co-workers to assist corrupt activities and prevent detection. 

How can it be defined?

We often think of corruption as being the most serious frauds or abuses of power, yet it can include what we would normally consider to be reasonably minor behaviours which violate the trust placed in employees. Examples of this might include fraudulently altering timesheets, or claiming sick leave while undertaking a second job during the time off.

Deviant behaviour can be defined as violations against group norms. This behaviour can be contrary to an organisation’s policies and rules. The two can battle each other as normal behaviour within the group can be seen as being more important than organisational rules and procedures. Although minor, this behaviour can spiral into corruption if left unaddressed. 

While corruption has the potential to and does indeed exist in both public and private sectors, government organisations seem uniquely challenged by corruption issues. This may be because of their large size and the geographical spread of employees, with managers sometimes working in different locations to teams, leaving teams with limited oversight and accountability. 

Social identity and the spiral into corruption

Social groups within a workplace can band together to promote or hide corruption.

Just like the schoolyard, people in workplaces can find themselves categorised or indeed categorise themselves into the ‘in’ or ‘out’ group. Some who are new to a workplace may want to associate with the ‘in’ crowd no matter what. If the group is engaged in corrupt activities or deviant behaviour, the new worker may be drawn in and pressured to participate. New employees can be socialised into corruption within the group or bullied to maintain silence.

Management may have knowledge of the strong sub-culture and choose not to intervene for a number of potential reasons. It may be that the group is performing well and meeting KPI targets, it may be that management is being bullied by staff not to intervene, or it may be that the status quo is being maintained through the use of corrupt alliance and relationships.

The ‘in’ group is all about informal power. A worker may not hold a senior role, but they have such strong personal power over colleagues that they end up being the leader within the group. Through use of this power, manipulation and persuasion, they may create and maintain these norms of corrupt behaviours.

Read more on: Social Identity and the Spiral into Corruption

Corrupting legitimate processes

When corruption is embedded into everyday routines and operations, it can be difficult to detect as behaviours become normalised. Often, these legitimate processes rely upon alliances within the workplace. For example, organisational processes might require a double sign-off on invoices for payment, yet two employees could work together to create and approve false invoices and transfer funds into their own accounts.

Speaking out against corruption can result in changes to a person’s employment conditions, such as redundancy, transferring a worker, cutting hours or changing shifts – all of which may seem legitimate until the timing is considered.

Use of alliances and networks

Employees can develop strong alliances and networks both within their close-knit group and more broadly across the organisation. These alliances can be used for corrupt purposes through an environment of secrecy, agreed rules and clique-like closeness. As employees get transferred to different areas and promoted, or even promote members of their clique, this network can grow both in size and the effectiveness of its corrupt activities.  

Once a corrupt employee has developed a network, there are plenty of people to help engage in corruption or to help conceal it. Sometimes, these people are manipulated into assisting through legitimate processes, and may not even realise that they are aiding corrupt activities.

Read more on: Use of Alliances and Networks

Protection from detection

People working together have tremendous power to be corrupt and resist detection. The strength of the ‘in’ group relies upon no one speaking out about the group’s activities. In cases where someone has spoken out, or alleged corrupt activities are suspected by management, corrupt group members can protect each other by providing false evidence that supports members or covers their tracks. This inhibits investigators from proving their suspicions and uncovering the corruption. 

Read more on: Banding Together to Avoid Detection

Silence and censorship

Silence and censorship are closely linked to social pressures. Once an employee group is engaging in corrupt behaviour, they can cover up their activities by insisting on the silence of others. 

Newcomers to the group can succumb to peer group pressure for a number of reasons, including:

  • Fear of being ostracised or bullied.
  • Wanting to be accepted into the group.
  • Being socialised into the normative behaviours of corruption.

Read more on: How Silence and Censorship can Enable Workplace Corruption

Can anything be done to prevent corruption?

Minimal reporting of alleged corruption makes it difficult to detect, with the wall of silence and supportive behaviours within the ‘in’ group enabling it to continue unopposed.

However, there are a number of precautions that employers can take to limit the impact of corruption and deviant behaviour:

  • Have a good understanding of what constitutes corruption.
  • Ensure complaint management systems are robust.
  • Ensure that there are various levels of accountability so that more than one person or group of people is responsible for important tasks. 
  • Avoid having just one person deciding on a procurement supplier. 
  • Physically locate the management team at the same site as the employees it oversees, or conduct frequent random visits. 

Corruption doesn’t just happen. It is made possible through enabling conditions, and then there must be motivators and benefits. It is not always a corrupt individual acting in isolation either.

Training can be effective

Another tool to limit corrupt activity is training. Wise Workplace offers the Certificate IV in Government Fraud Control, which is recognised by federal government agencies, and has been so successful in cost savings that some state and local governments now require public sector investigators to hold this qualification. 

The Certificate IV is a national qualification, aimed at investigators who wish to work in government, and government employees who wish to be promoted. The course focuses on:

  • Identifying fraud and corruption.
  • Conducting risk assessments.
  • Conducting investigations. 

Employee corruption and deviant behaviour is a huge problem in the public sector, compounded by the difficulty in identifying and proving it. There are many employees who observe corrupt behaviours but don’t report them because they are too scared to get involved. 

It’s difficult to know how best to deal with the problem, but it is clear that education, including an understanding of the enabling conditions and the motivators to look for, plays an important role. 

Employees need to be educated about corrupt behaviours, and if more staff can be engaged in higher-level training, the frequency of corruption may start to decrease. 

If you’re interested in implementing education and training around corruption, contact WISE Workplace about the Certificate IV in Government and Fraud Control.

Undercurrents of Bias can Drown an Investigation

- Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Undercurrents of Bias can Drown an Investigation
In the often stormy seas of workplace investigations, the issue of investigator bias lurks in the undercurrents, a trap for the unwary employer.   

One of the most regular complaints we hear from people who have been the subject of an investigation is that the investigator was biased and the decision was predetermined, and they had no chance of a fair hearing.  

It doesn’t really matter whether bias is real, it is the perception of bias that undermines the investigation process and can keep employers working with ‘problem’ employees through various court processes for years. You heard right - YEARS! 

There may be many sound reasons for using in-house staff to conduct investigations. These include: 
  • Keeping the costs down. 
  • Having someone familiar with the culture and work practices of the organisation. 
  • Knowing the individuals.   
So long as the person you use has the required skills in collecting evidence there shouldn’t be a problem, right?  

Wrong! – the issue over bias can become the dangerous undertow that makes all those cost savings irrelevant when you are embroiled in a protracted court case.  

What happened in Anders

Anders was employed by the school, located near Hobart, as an academic administrator (AA) and maths teacher.  

In 2013, Anders said that she was snowed under with her AA duties. She was also diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and took extended leave. At the end of 2013, the school removed her from the AA role. 

Anders disputed this decision by application to the Fair Work Commission (FWC). An outcome was negotiated, but Anders maintained her protests about the decision. 

Following her return to work, Anders had some further episodes of depression and anxiety, which again caused her to take leave. 

During this period, Anders’ relationship with the school’s management and other staff became problematic. It was alleged that she: 

  • Took issue at not being allocated a particular maths subject to teach, saying that “the gloves [were] off.”
  • Made some social media posts about her employment issues which caused the school to caution her about inappropriate use of the platform.
  • Sent emails to colleagues about her dispute with the school.
  • Expressed mistrust in the school’s headmaster and deputy headmaster and would not communicate with them.
  • Had such a difficult relationship with other teachers in the faculty that they had refused to work with her. 
  • Claimed that she had been discriminated against on the basis of her mental illness. 
  • Showed discourteous and disrespectful behaviour towards her colleagues. 

Deputy Headmaster Alan Jones investigated the matter. He put the allegations to Anders in writing and she was asked to attend a meeting and was invited to have representation present. Following the meeting, Jones interviewed other witnesses.  

Jones decided to terminate Anders’ employment, having found that most of the allegations against her were substantiated. He wrote to her saying that there was a total breakdown in the employment relationship, making her continued employment at the school impossible.  

Anders made a claim for unfair dismissal in the FWC. 

The FWC decision

The FWC found that while Anders’ behaviour may have indicated a lack of wisdom, it did not constitute a breakdown of the employment relationship. 

Because Jones was investigating the matter, the FWC said that he was in effect investigating an allegation against himself as Anders had allegedly declared that she did not trust the headmaster or deputy headmaster of the school. 

The concern was that he could not be impartial. This, combined with Jones’ knowledge of Anders’ mental health issues, “did not provide a reasonable basis for Mr Jones to conclude that each of these allegations [was] proven.” 

The FWC found the termination was harsh as there was no valid reason, and ordered the school to pay compensation. 

not the only case

This issue is certainly not an isolated one. The case of Keiko v Qantas also involved an allegation of bias. The investigator in that case was criticised for accepting the account of a close work colleague rather than the weight of contrary evidence from many other witnesses. As in Anders, using an independent investigator would have circumvented this issue.

Keeping investigations independent and without bias is a central tenet to procedural fairness. While independent investigators are not immune from bias or indeed allegations of bias, it is important for employers to recognise when their in-house team is too close to a situation to effectively investigate without bias. 

If you have a problem that you want to discuss or think an independent investigator is the answer, talk to one of our case managers about how our workplace investigators may be able to help.