Working to prevent and manage bullying in public authorities

For public authorities to optimise their efficiency and effectiveness it is important that appropriate behaviour of employees is encouraged, and actions are taken to prevent and manage inappropriate behaviour.

In early 2017, the Commission engaged KPMG to conduct a review to evaluate current practice in managing and preventing workplace bullying across six Western Australian public authorities. Analysis of the Commission’s survey data and reported cases of alleged bullying in some public sector agencies, indicated a review was timely and appropriate.

The review sought to evaluate arrangements to:

  • prevent bullying
  • manage alleged bullying incidents when they occur.

The definition of, and behaviours that constitute, workplace bullying are not universally accepted or clear, however the common elements are:

  • repeated, unreasonable behaviour
  • directed towards a worker or group of workers
  • that creates a risk to health and safety.

KPMG identified seven elements as key to creating a robust environment to prevent and manage unacceptable behaviour, including bullying. The sample authorities were assessed in terms of the maturity of their arrangements against these elements.

Observations and suggestions for improvement

From KPMG’s work, eight observations and suggestions for improvement were considered applicable across all public authorities:

1. Authorities tend to focus behaviour management on certain elements rather than holistically

Few authorities appeared to have a balanced focus on all the elements contributing to effective behavioural management.

Authorities should consider the impact of culture, leadership and behaviour in balance with structured policies and procedures.

2. Tone from the top matters

Some leaders were more proactive and transparent than others in demonstrating tone from the top.

Leaders should ‘back up’ value statements articulating their personal commitment against bullying.

3. Effective performance management assists in minimising real and/or perceived bullying

All authorities had a structured performance management process, but managers and staff need clarity on what is considered effective performance management and what is bullying.

Managers should ensure that performance feedback is delivered appropriately; in a timely manner; is clearly linked to an employee’s role; and is balanced between addressing behaviours and results.

4. Proactively considering the management of change as it impacts upon behaviour matters

Poor change management planning, frameworks and immature capability can lead to an increase in bullying.

Change management planning should be formalised and leaders need to consider communication, resourcing and support mechanisms for staff.

5. Appreciation of situational risk factors can be enhanced

Situational factors often significantly contribute to the prevalence of perceived or actual instances of bullying, and capacity to address them was mixed.

Authorities should assess the risk of bullying in a structured way, and develop tailored short and long-term strategies to manage it.

 6. Learning and development can be enhanced

Induction training typically does not guide managers on how to identify bullying and manage incidents. Refresher training is also relatively uncommon.

Relevant ongoing training should include guidance for managers on identifying and managing potential incidents of bullying. Where practicable training should draw on situational risk factors identified.

7. Support from human resources functions can be strengthened

The role the human resource function plays in managing and preventing bullying varies greatly.

Authorities should consider building the capacity of human resources in this area as well as building broader organisational capability to manage and prevent bullying.

8. Policies and procedures can be enhanced

Authorities’ documentation should provide explicit references around bullying and be made readily available to all staff.

Policies and procedures should clearly step out the boundaries of acceptable behaviour and clear channels for reporting.

 Our reports are available on the Reviews page of our website

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Page last updated 12 June 2018