Nearly a third of NT public servants witnessed bullying or sexual harassment in workplace: Survey

by | Jun 4, 2021 | News | 0 comments

Thirty per cent of public servants said they have seen bullying or sexual harassment at their workplace in the last 12 months, according to a new internal survey obtained by the NT Independent, that also shows 34 per cent said they had seen improper conduct.

However, only 55 per cent believed improper conduct was investigated thoroughly and objectively, while less than half – or 47 per cent of public servants – thought recruitment and promotions were based on merit.

There were 9,581 anonymous respondents – or 46 per cent of the total workforce – to the NT People Matter Survey which was leaked to the NT Independent.

Those figures mean more than 2,800 public servants said they had witnessed bullying or sexual harassment in the workplace and over 3,200 had witnessed improper conduct.

Questions covered governance, performance of senior managers, managers, quality of work and service delivery, innovation, performance, training and development, bullying and harassment, as well as the experience of being an employee.

Of those who responded, 27 per cent were managers, and others working in various parts of the Territory, with 66 per cent of respondents from Darwin and more than 90 per cent full time employees.

There were also 398 people on executive contracts who responded, which is about 62 per cent of the Territory’s roughly 643 executives, or four per cent of the total.

Only six people in in Police, Fire and Emergency Services responded with no fire fighters completing the survey and no corrections officers.

The highest positive responses were from respondents who could say positive things about themselves: 93 per cent said they believed the work they did was important; 92 per cent said they seek out opportunities to improve their day-to-day performance; and 91 per cent said their work behaviour was informed by, or guided by, the code of conduct.

The survey had an overall ’employee engagement’ score of 65 per cent, which measures employees’ emotions about their job and their motivation levels. It was the same as the 2018 score. This measure also included how well recognised they were for their work, and how much autonomy and innovation there was.

The highest number of negative response to questions was in response to the actions of the departments, organisations, and managers and how they dealt with employees.

Only 27 per cent of people thought their organisation fairly considered recommendations from staff about how to operate better, and only 28 per cent felt senior management keep employees informed.

Only 29 per cent thought their organisation would take action based on the survey results, and 31 per cent considered it safe to speak up and challenge the way things were done.

While 43 per cent said their organisation would take action based on the survey results, 29 per cent of respondents remained convinced there would be no change.

In total, 55 per cent of people thought their organisation inspired them to do a good job, and motivated them to help achieve the organisation’s objectives.

Bullying and harassment

Of those surveyed, 30 per cent said they had witnessed bullying or sexual harassment at work in the last 12 months, or 2,887 people, but only 33 per cent of those people reported the matter formally or informally.

There were another 16 per cent who said they spoke to the bully, 26 per cent spoke to the person who was being bullied, 13 per cent said they made note of it but took no action and seven per cent took no action at all.

There were 2,785 people, or 29 per cent, who said they were either bullied or sexually harassed or both, and another 842, or nine per cent, who said they would prefer not to say if they had or not.

There were 697 people, or 19 per cent, who said they had made a formal complaint of harassment or abuse they had suffered, and 34 per cent of those said they had to take time off work because of it.

There were 95 people, or one per cent of respondents, who said they were sexually harassed in the last 12 months.

Twenty-nine per cent of respondents strongly agreed bullying was not tolerated in their workplace, and 37 per cent agreed with that statement, 18 per cent were neutral, 11 per cent disagreed with that, and six per cent strongly disagreed.

There was no specific questions asking how people felt about management responses to bullying and sexual harassment although there were such questions about other topics.

The report follows Chief Minister Michael Gunner taking no action against Treaty Commissioner Professor Mick Dodson until allegations were raised in the media that he called a woman a “slut” and threatened to “know her f**king lights out” during a football match in Darwin earlier this year.

A week after it was first reported in the media the chief minister said he wrote to Professor Dodson saying his government had lost confidence in him. This despite a complaint being filed with Minister for Treaty Selena Uibo in March, who then forwarded it on to the Department of Chief Minister and Cabinet, who conducted, or are conducting an investigation, all details of which have been kept secret.

Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro said the Gunner Government’s refusal to take action was the latest example of weak leadership and a culture of cover-up in the NT Labor party, that she said also highlighted only “lip service” to its claims of not tolerating violence against women.

Integrity and employment

Of those surveyed, 34 per cent said they had seen “improper conduct” but it was not stated specifically what this conduct was, while 88 per cent said they knew what to do to report improper conduct.

However, only 55 per cent of people said they would be confident it would be investigated in a thorough and objective manner if they reported it. There were 73 per cent who said avoiding conflict of interests was seen as important, and 68 per cent said engaging in improper conduct was not tolerated.

But only 58 per cent said they would be confident of being protected from reprisals for reporting improper conduct.

Forty-five per cent of people said their manager appropriately dealt with employees who performed poorly.

And only 47 per cent said recruitment and promotions were based on merit, with 26 per cent of people saying they were in fact not, and 53 per cent of people recruited into their organisation had the rights skills for the job.

In handing down findings in October about an employee who falsely claimed Aboriginality, the Independent Commissioner Against Corrupt Ken Flemming warned there is a significant risk to the public sector if recruitment processes did not adequately prevent and detect candidates who falsify their applications and qualifications in order to win NTPS jobs.

He said reports to his office had shown that a small, but significant, number of candidates abused the the recruitment processes, were dishonest, and exaggerated their qualifications, were the recipients of nepotism; failed to declare a conflict of interest, or failed to declare relevant connections.

But he said these tactics could only succeed if recruiters failed to stick to proper practices, or those practices are inadequate, and it was sometimes the case interviewers “did not ask the right questions”.

The investigation has also identified “serious and systemic improper conduct risks” within the Territory Government’s recruitment and disciplinary frameworks.  

Senior manager performance

Of those surveyed, 63 per cent of people were confident their leaders had the appropriate capabilities and skills to lead, and 56 per cent said senior managers model behaviour expected of employees. Sixty-eight per cent of people thought behaving impartially was seen as important in their organisation, and the same number said behaving improperly was not tolerated.

There were 48 per cent of people who believed communication from senior managers about change came in a timely manner, that they engage with employees at all levels and make timely decisions, while 50 per cent believed they kept employees informed about what was going on.

Only 56 per cent believed the senior management team had a clear vision for the future, and only 19 per cent strongly agreed with this, and 54 per cent said managers provided clear strategy and direction with only 18 per cent strongly agreeing.


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