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Toxic culture whistleblowers retrenched

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HC Online | 19 Sep 2012, 12:00 AM Agree 0
The case of two CSIRO employees who blew the whistle on alleged mismanagement and made claims about a bullying culture has thrown the spotlight on toxic workplace cultures.
  • Bernie Althofer | 20 Sep 2012, 01:35 PM Agree 0
    Despite the existence of policies and procedures designed to prevent, detect and resolve workplace bullying, there are times when all those involved are not afforded the protections or support they believe they are entitled to.

    Whilst the tone of an organisation can and should be set at the top, sometimes the various sub-cultures and 'the way things are done around here' approach have more of an impact on what really happens in relation to how any form of 'wrong doing' or counter productive behaviours are reported. These factors may also have a strong influence on how those who report such transgressions are managed. The question might be "Who has a key role to play in identifying, reporting and supporting the key players?"

    As indicated above, making the issues visible is important. However, where there is an invasive and toxic culture that penalises those who speak up, then a loud and strong message is sent, and in many cases, it is not a positive message.

    In addition to the advice offered above, I would suggest that there has to be an implementation process as well as an audit/assessment process conducted. I would suggest that the audit/assessment process be conducted by an independent agent. Officers and workers may be more inclined to 'open up' if they believe they are speaking with someone who is independent, has no ties to the organisation, and there are no conflicts of interest (e.g. promotional opportunities threatened for advice provided).

    There is no magic solution to addressing what can be a complex issue. However, it does take hard work, commitment and leadership from the top and cascaded through the organisation, and most of all, an admission that workplace bullies might be creating substantial damage to individual and organisation reputations.
  • Bernie Althofer | 25 Sep 2012, 03:44 PM Agree 0
    There seems to be considerable expectations being placed on officers and workers to prevent, detect and resolve workplace bullying. It seems that education and prevention are being promoted as key strategies to reduce the level of risk exposure.

    How then can officers be satisfied that the risks are being detected? Should internal auditors (or even external auditors) play a role in 'detecting', 'identifying' and 'reporting' on the level of exposure.

    Over the years, audits have moved from purely financial through to IT and into the realm of HR and operational issues.

    However, I would suggest that due to the complexity of issues involved with workplace bullying, auditors should be exposed to systems or processes that offer currency of knowledge. Periodic audits of organisational systems and processes could be time consuming, depending a range of variables, and whether or not the auditor is afforded access to all relevant materials.

    Given the potential for skeletons to be lurking around the next corner (or hidden away) auditors can with the appropriate exposure, identify issues that have the potential to damage individual or organisational reputations.

    I would like to think that in this day and age, given the rise and rise of workplace bullying allegations (and the level of 'unreported' incidents, that auditors should have had some detailed briefings and already be 'on the case' so to speak. In reality, bullying is not going away in the immediate future, and officers should be utilising their auditors effectively to identify what can be damaging risk exposures.
  • Tamara Parris | 07 Oct 2012, 11:36 AM Agree 0
    You bring forward great points Bernie.

    Many company leaders I speak to seem to still believe their programs and policies are being implemented and followed.

    What we often find after open discussions with support staff is managers are ignoring the issues and still sweep things under the carpet. Even after they're trained on the companies new programs and policies.

    What is the purpose of asking the managers, accountable for administering the programs and policies, to fill out evaluation surveys to assess if their HSP is working properly?

    I have heard too often people tell me "we determine success by the fact there is no reporting of "major" problems".

    After investigating, we find these same managers are blocking employees from reporting incidents.

    Senior leaders are leaving out a critical step by not connecting with their direct workforce.

    It is unfortunate many people are not using the core skill of listening to their support employees insights to evaluate success.
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