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Fears bullying will increase in public service


Peter Jean

Pressure on public servants from budget cuts and increasing workloads could lead to a rise in workplace bullying, the public sector union fears.

The Community and Public Sector Union has voiced the concern to a parliamentary inquiry into workplace bullying.

The federal government made provision in the May budget for 4200 full-time equivalent jobs to be cut from the public service this financial year.

The CPSU said in a submission to the House of Representatives committee inquiry that high workloads could ''breed stress'' which was borne out in the form of bullying behaviour. Areas in which this could occur included public service units which dealt with policy advice to the government.

''In these workplaces pressure arising from budget cuts, increasing workloads, increased hours [often in the form of unpaid overtime] and reduction in training opportunities can lead to difficult working relationships and a rise in bullying-type behaviour,'' the submission said.

''The pressure on managers to deliver outcomes in these circumstances leads to stressful situations for all in the workplace.''

The union said bullying was raised as an issue most often in workplaces with high workloads, strict controls on time and narrow performance targets, such as service-delivery agencies and call centres.

In 2010-11, 114 Commonwealth public servants were investigated for harassment or bullying and 46 were found to have breached the service's code of conduct. In the same year, the Human Rights Commission received 1564 complaints about workplace bullying.

More than 17 per cent of Commonwealth employees reported experiencing bullying or harassment in the past 12 months in a survey undertaken for the Australian Public Service Commission earlier this year.

In 2009, there were 29 reports of bullying in the ACT public service of which 20 were investigated and four substantiated.

In another submission to the inquiry, ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said reducing the incidence and severity of bullying in the workplace would be most effective if the same behaviours were simultaneously addressed in families and communities.

''What is occurring in our workplaces reflects broader social standards of behaviour that are experienced in our schools, community groups, sporting teams and homes,'' Ms Gallagher said.

The ACT was taking part in the development of a national code of practice on workplace bullying through Safe Work Australia.

Federal work health regulator Comcare said the cost of claims arising from workplace bullying across the Public Service had risen from $27.4 million to $46.3 million over the past three years.

''These trends are not sustainable,'' the agency warned in its submission.


  • Bullying is a behavioural trait of many people I have worked with. It is so subtle. Vicious gossiping, ostracism, condescension and hypocrisy are its tools and are devastatingly effective in killing someone' s character and change his or her personality, destroy self esteem and instill doubts in that person. This in turn affects his/ her private life. I very much doubt if can be got rid of as it is virtually encouraged in the workplace. It should be made a serious crime not some kind of bad behaviour to be hushed.

    Date and time
    August 09, 2012, 8:38AM
    • Sadly I have to agree with the CPSU, except that it will not be confined to just policy areas. Whilst the APS senior management wax lyrical about work life balance, they do not appear to either support or practice it. The idea that you can do more with less may have sold lots of management books but it is nonsense. You can only achieve efficiency through process change. Read your recent articles on public sector employment processes, it was antiquated decades ago, but lots of people put lots of time and effort into supporting a totally inefficient recruiting system. This of course creates lots of useless jobs for HR managers.
      Give resources to the areas where it is needed and review the inefficient process. Start with HR, Procurement, IT, Security, Corporate Services, to name a few – plenty of efficiencies to be made there and plenty of jobs that could be moved to operational areas.

      Date and time
      August 09, 2012, 9:06AM
      • There is a popular management myth pushed by consultants: More coxswains and less rowers will make things go faster. These same consultants get paid by the person-hour so it is no surprise that over management is encouraged as this maximises profits while spreading the blame to the poor sods at the coal-face. (and yes, this feels very much like bullying!)
        Why do we use so many more consultants? I have noticed a large bulk-up of senior management over my career...probably just the demographic bulge of boomers moving through but there has also been a massive shift from supervising process workers to management of IT. The fact is most of the senior management are just not qualified to look after IT professionals so they bring in the consultants...who get them over a barrel and screw the last cent out of the organisation if the (ignorant) management allows them to. Quite simple but big IT projects are routinely stuffed up because it is in the best interests of the consultants to do so, and the management are asleep at the wheel.
        Pity the competent IT worker as they are bullied relentlessly by consultants trying to impose "good practice" (ie. massive profits). It is perilous to resist the budget strippers from anywhere but senior management...they are masters of corporate influence.

        Date and time
        August 09, 2012, 1:28PM
    • I am in this situation at work. It is hard to work with a manager whose influence is very de-motivating and a big impediment to engaging in productive work outcomes. I find there is a lack of effective management in the APS, with management exhibiting rigidity bias. There is also bullying in the form of lack of opportunity provided to lower level staff. I report to a manager who is inferior to me, harasses me to get my work done yet he has the support of the top brass. I have been in the same position for 9 years and have not been able to get a promotion, this is discrimination as well.

      Affected employee of Australian public service
      Date and time
      August 09, 2012, 10:30AM
      • Office bullying is rampant in the workplace and all the policies and procedures that address it are just playing lip service. I believe speak with some authority on the subject because I have been working for over thirty years, experienced all before and hold a senior position in a department.

        However despite all of this I'm in a situation where my boss is well connected, politically astute and got to his current position through people he knows. He has an issue with my qualifications which is quite obvious to me and the team I manage and has caused me on one occassion to defend my position in front of other staff when he made a mockery of my achievements. He has never done it again but I always sense I'm a threat to him. Fortunately I get on well with people in my department that matter and they are well aware of him.

        He often holds back information and sets traps for you to fall in often with superiors about. He also has a following of a selected few who would not survive elsewhere who he ensures are well remunerated. Difficult at my age to change roles so we have this weird relationship where its a game of chess all the time. What keeps me going is the respect I have earned from my team of people.

        My advice to anyone being bullied is to fight back but do it in a polite respectful manner. Make sure you document the events.

        Bullies in the office need to be pushed back - no different to the days when we were at school confronted with the same issue.

        Date and time
        August 09, 2012, 11:18AM
        • Fido the problem is often that those being bullied do not have the experience, skill, knowledge or confidence to 'push back', which is often the reason they are chosen as victims. Look at the 'affected empolyee' post.
          By the way I doubt your qualifcations or lack their of are the problem, they are merely an opportunity.

          Date and time
          August 09, 2012, 11:28AM
        • Irene is right Fido, people have to start to push back as Irene states.

          What you have explained appears to be a very common trait among the bosses in the PS, they hold back information, claim a project as their own, and blame everyone else when the things don't work out as planned...even to the point where they claim another is "slow" in front of the entire office. Amazing.

          They are difficult to get rid of because they have the art of social engineering, perfected.

          However, workplace bullies won't stop their behaviour because others will not stand up to them.

          Date and time
          August 09, 2012, 12:21PM
        • Thanks for your comments Irene.

          If anyone is being bullied in the work place and you don't feel adequately equipped to deal with it find a champion/confidant you can speak to. Don't let it fester.

          Remember the source of the bullying comes from the very individual(s) inadequacies and insecurities

          I'm a strong defender of what's right and being of the age group I am have seen all this before. I also read the play so you got to know when to go in to defend and you need to defend with respect from the otherside.

          There are confidant's out there - don't let the issue get to you.

          Bullying in the work place will always be there - it will find you if you allow others to take away your self respect.

          Re: the qual's - agree with you on that point.

          Date and time
          August 09, 2012, 12:29PM
      • And the unions as well as Gillards own department are not bullying workers to pay into a fighting fund to prop up a funding blitz against the coalition leading up to and during the next federal election campaign?

        Tony of Brisbane
        Date and time
        August 09, 2012, 12:04PM
        • Oh no. Is this article actually saying that these poor, selfless and fragile public servants are going to have to "work"... "more"?

          Like in, hmmm, Real Life (tm) or a Real Workplace where a thing called profit is made.

          Perhaps these poor snowflakes can give 30 seconds deliberation to having to get up in the morning, work bloody hard ALL DAY, then have half your business forcibly taken away from you each week in the form of taxes. If they were focused on the reality of earning a dollar, they might worry less about the subtle effects of some imagined slight or perceived "favouritism".

          The entire story reeks of those who are bored, with little to do and protecting carefully cultivated fiefdoms and who are scared of even trivial competition.

          Wake up to yourselves. Toughen up and compete. If you don't, for when the recession really hits and you are all inevitably laid off, you are in for a culture shock of an unimaginable magnitude.

          Unfortunately Canberra
          Date and time
          August 09, 2012, 12:12PM

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