Harassment at work on the rise at City of Edmonton, new survey shows

More City of Edmonton employees said they were harassed in 2018 than in 2016.

2018 survey shows 24% of employees felt harassed, up from 19% in 2016

The city's employee engagement and diversity survey released Thursday shows an increase in claims of harassment and discrimination. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

More City of Edmonton employees said they were harassed at work in 2018 than in 2016.

Results of the 2018 engagement and diversity survey released Thursday show nearly 24 per cent of respondents in 2018 said they were harassed — that's up from 19 per cent in 2016. 

Those who said they experienced discrimination went up to 14 per cent in 2018 from 11.4 per cent in 2016.

The results were shared with employees at 2 p.m., and shortly after, made public on the city's website and through social media. 

For the 2018 survey, 8,732 employees responded between Sept. 5 and 28.

Those who witnessed harassment or discrimination also increased to 25 per cent from 20 per cent.

But incidents of internal harassment from supervisors and coworkers were down from 2016, the exception being "harassment coming from members of the public," the report's executive summary says. 

City Manager, Linda Cochrane, didn't know how much of the harassment figures were derived from public behaviour or the city.

City Manager Linda Cochrane said she's sad with the survey results and that the city is committed to improving the work culture. (John Shyptika/CBC)

The report found staff's trust and confidence in the city manager and deputy city managers dropped by nearly 10 per cent.

"I'm not happy with the results," Cochrane said at a news conference Thursday. "But I also don't think we're surprised, this is not something that we thought would change quickly."

After the corporate culture audit in 2017 revealed that one in five employees felt harassed or discriminated against, Cochrane's office hired an external company, Deloitte, to accept complaints and the city also created the employee services department.

"Those two things didn't change the culture," she said.

Thursday, Cochrane and her deputy managers announced new programs and services that will focus on listening and engaging employees called This is How We Work.

"I'm encouraged that there's increased participation and increase sharing of the stories," she said of the survey.

"I'm sad that there are still — really sad — that there are employees that still have bad experiences at the city in the workplace."

Performance evaluation

Mayor Don Iveson said the survey results suggest that some staff are having problems with city management. 

"There are front-line concerns with management," noting that the city's restructuring over the past couple of years factors into the feelings of disruption. 

"And I suspect councillors will want to talk to the city manager about that as part of the performance evaluation process."
Mayor Don Iveson called the survey results concerning. (John Shypitka/CBC)

Council will begin evaluating the performance of city managers in the coming months and administration's progress will "factor into the performance evaluation."

He said he's counting on consistent 'check in' points for a progress report.

"I want to know how administration is going to be reporting on the success of these new initiatives or any challenges with these new initiatives without having to wait two years to find out where we're at."

'Let's fire some people'

President of the union representing 4,400 employees, civic service union local 52, Lanny Chudyk isn't holding his breath that the new city initiatives will noticeably improve the workplace culture.

"We've gone through tons of those over the years," he told CBC News. "I can't even remember all of the programs that we've gone through."

Chudyk said some managers accused of mistreatment have been in the same departments for years, causing significant problems for workers.

"Unless those people are gone, my members are not going to trust any process going forward.

"Let's fire some people who are bullying and harassing, let's move them into different departments, let's deal with the issue."

The city's new initiatives include opening a safe disclosure office, developing a new training program, and launching an employee advisory committee. The safe disclosure office will open Jan. 28 and handle concerns about harassment and discrimination.

Although results of the 2018 employee survey were released Thursday, the city started engaging with supervisors and union on the new initiatives in September, city staff said.

Another new program includes a focus on workplace mental health called "The Working Mind."

Dr. Gabrielle Betts is the director of respect in the workplace, with Kimberly Armstrong as deputy manager of the new employee services.