Public servants share stories of workplace bullying
'I now dread going into work so much to the point where I am physically ill'
Recent investigations by the federal integrity commissioner into the behaviour of executives at federal government agencies have thrust the issue of bullying and harassment in the public service into the spotlight.
Since publishing stories about these investigations, we've heard from public servants who say negative workplace behaviour has been a serious problem within government departments for years, and it isn't getting any better.
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With their permission, we're sharing some of their experiences here. They've asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal. Some of these accounts have been edited for length and clarity.
Ongoing harassment and abuse
In my eight-year career in the public service I have held five separate positions, three of which (including my current) I was victim to some form of harassment. I have been the victim of inappropriate comments and touching and reported this behaviour only to have the manager remain in the public service (he was an executive). I have been the victim of verbal abuse and mental anguish in two positions, one of which is my current role. My day-to-day activities revolve around walking on eggshells in the presence [of] my supervisor who is not afraid to verbally reprimand me in front of all my colleagues for simple, harmless errors. My superior has no tact in the manner that she communicates with me and is often harshly critical in very public spaces. I now dread going into work so much to the point where I am physically ill. The one thing all of my experiences have in common is that there is no reprimand for this type of behaviour. These issues are reported, the HR files grow bigger, and these employees in managerial positions continue to supervise people and get away with the abuse.
Witnessing bad workplace behaviour
No amount of money could keep me in a twisted environment like that.
I used to see my colleagues in tears, and they were too afraid to report the abuse and belittlement that was directed at them. I got absolutely shat on by management when I spoke up about what I was seeing, but by that point I didn't care and I knew they'd react that way — gutless and afraid that someone below had blown the whistle and confronted them on the behaviour. At a branch meeting, the VP at the time (who is now retired), said that anyone who had a problem with bullying in the organization should leave, because in his opinion there was none. No amount of money could keep me in a twisted environment like that. It's just not worth it, unless you want to absorb the sickness. At a certain point, those who stick around become the dysfunction or adapt to it.
Management playing favourites
Basically, the office got split into two groups: those who were friends with the director and deputy director and those who weren't. I was in the latter, though I will say by choice of my own, whether due to the fact that I didn't care to spend long periods of my day chit-chatting about all the mundane details of my personal life or because I questioned things in order to understand and develop as an employee. I increasingly found myself singled out for various issues (such as reading news or watching a YouTube video, which I did instead of said chit-chatting) while watching others, who are friends with the director show up late, go work out (with the director) for more than 1.5 hours at "lunch" several times a week, and leave early without batting an eye.
Nowhere to turn
There are no avenues for public servants.
As a directorate manager, for three years I worked for a female executive who felt it OK to tell me and others our degrees were useless, that we were stupid, that I was negative and people didn't believe in me, that I have no right managing people, that I mismanaged government funds — all not true. In front of other executives she berated me and my staff ... she refused work done by my staff because she didn't like him personally, so he left, and I was left alone. She insisted on telling off students, my staff, me, instead of following the chain of command. There are no avenues for public servants. The union is limited in its ability to help. Harassment and grievances make you into a "troublemaker." Mental health leave means you're weak.