Online comments suggest history of civil service bullying

Responses on government blog detail claims of personal experiences of harassment

When the civil service’s diversity and inclusion champion, Dame Sue Owen, announced in a blog that a review was being launched into how bullying and harassment should be tackled, she may not quite have expected the response that awaited her.

Her piece, which was written in January and claimed the civil service had a “zero tolerance” policy towards the issue, was deluged with more than 120 comments, many from staff who said they had either witnessed or been subjected to bullying themselves.

The responses echo a separate Guardian investigation into workplace bullying in Whitehall, revealing that government departments and other publicly funded bodies have received at least 551 complaints of sexual harassment or bullying over the past three years.

One commenter, who said they worked for HMRC, wrote: “It seems to me that bullies are seen as people who ‘get the job done’ in the ‘you can’t make am [sic] omelette without cracking a few eggs’ mould. So a blind eye is turned to their behaviours because more senior managers … are concerned that without them the job would not get done.”

The commenter went on to claim: “I’ve also heard many times, including last week, that the bullying behaviour is ‘strong management’ and people are complaining because they don’t like to be effectively managed. When people are called names in meetings, ascribed negative traits based on their gender, or more serious active undermining of people and their careers is undertaken behind their back because they are ‘outside’ the favoured group, then this can never be ‘strong management’.”

Another commenter, who said they were a 27-year veteran of the civil service working at HMRC, wrote: “I too agree that it is seen as ‘strong’ management and condoned by senior leaders, and it seems to be positively encouraged by like minded people.

“From my 27 years in the CS [civil service] there seems to be some sort of collusion that keeps the perpetrators seemingly untouchable as they continue (generally up the grades) by belittling and undermining others.

“This generates unbelievable stress, which if you challenge it gets brushed aside, and victims are told to toughen up, or subtly to find another job.”

Another commenter who said they worked in the civil service and had suffered bullying said: “I underwent a sustained amount of bullying by G7 in my last job which was widely known throughout my directorate, but I still had to leave the department in order for it to end. For good measure, he stayed in his post and retained his grade.”

Another added: “My experience was awful. I became aware of a campaign by one person against me, when I was the recipient of a nasty aggressive verbal assault which was witnessed by other colleagues. It took a week to get my line manager to deal with it. I was asked to move, which I refused, and said the perpetrator should move. Then it became obvious this person had been ‘plotting behind my back’ for some considerable time and sent a message to me that was intended for another colleague to read. This message highlighted the whole campaign and was threatening.

“The perpetrator had a long history of bullying, aggression and demeaning people. He has since retired and I have had to work to restore my reputation since. I have not got over it and have a great distrust of any system no matter how well meaning it intends to be.”

Rakesh Patel, the head of employment rights strategy at Thompsons Solicitors, which regularly represents civil servants with bullying and harassment grievances, told the Guardian: “Unfortunately I don’t think there’s a general will to deal with [complaints] seriously. People close ranks, particularly the more senior the perpetrator. People rally round and close ranks and that does happen in most large organisations.

“Of course, the perpetrators are entitled to defend themselves and there should be an objective view but often employers and departments aren’t really considering the background evidence. They don’t really carry out a thorough investigation so it’s quite a broad-brush approach to some of these complaints.”


Simon Murphy

The GuardianTramp

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