Vigil highlights harassment, bullying at City of Edmonton

A small group of people gathered in Edmonton’s Churchill Square on Saturday evening in a show of support for the nearly one in five city staff who say they’ve been harassed or bullied at work.

Vigil comes a year after audit showed nearly 1-in-5 city staff say they've been harassed at work

Saturday evening's vigil highlighted the goal of holding City of Edmonton leadership accountable for problems with bullying and harassment in the workplace. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

A small group of people gathered in Edmonton's Churchill Square on Saturday evening in a show of support for the nearly one-in-five city staff who say they've been bullied or harassed at work.

City employee Cecily Poohkay said the turnout was telling.

"We did have a very small turnout tonight, and I think that is symptomatic of people being so afraid to come forward and talk about this," she said.

It has been a year since a corporate culture audit showed nearly 20 per cent of Edmonton city staff who responded to a 2016 survey said they've been harassed in the workplace.

"That's 2,600 people out of the 13,000 employees at the city that are experiencing this. That means 2,600 families, that means 2,600 support networks are being affected by this," Poohkay said.

"We also know that people underreport this type of behaviour in the workplace. And they do because they are so afraid of retaliation and they also don't feel that it will be taken seriously or properly addressed."

City employee Cecily Poohky says workplace harassment can negatively affect people's performance at work. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

The audit found only 41 per cent of the employees who reported harassment or discrimination said they later saw a change in behaviour. The goal of Saturday's vigil was to hold city leadership accountable for the reported harassment.

Poohkay said there's still a lot of work to do.

"This is our public service. This is the roads that we drive on. This is the sidewalks that we walk on," she said.

"When people go to work and they're treated like that, we know that this results in poor decisions that get made. It results in higher absenteeism. It results in medical leaves. It's a really difficult environment to work in and that impacts the services that the public get."

Two deputy city managers and a city chaplain attended the vigil — a valuable show of support from leadership, Poohkay said.

Kim Armstrong, deputy city manager of employee services, attended the vigil on Saturday evening. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Kim Armstrong, deputy city manager of the employee services department, said she attended the vigil to listen to the people who wanted to share their stories.

The employee services department was created earlier this year and has been reviewing recommendations from Deloitte, the company hired to handle harassment complaints.

It suggested the city conduct training for leaders around communication techniques and performance coaching. Deloitte also recommended the city implement behaviour contracts that employees in conflict sign off on.

"We are actively working on implementing those recommendations," Armstrong said. "There's a tremendous amount of time and energy and passion and enthusiasm being put into this work."

Armstrong said her department has created a workforce restoration unit, which will help city staff in conflict work toward constructive resolutions.

"I'm encouraged that there is opportunity for us to continue to work at building the vibrant, healthy workplace culture that everyone is entitled to. And there's real commitment on the part of our leadership team to make that happen," she said.