Manitoba·CBC Investigates

RCMP communications centre staff describe 'high school' environment, low morale: review

An internal report suggests interpersonal conflicts are hurting morale among the people who handle 911 calls at the RCMP Manitoba telecommunications centre, which has been plagued by staff shortages.

Bullying, harassment, morale issues may increase absenteeism at Manitoba centre, internal RCMP report says

A person looks at a series of screens in an emergency dispatch centre.
A workplace assessment at the RCMP D Division Operational Communications Centre in 2016 found interpersonal conflicts were hurting morale. (RCMP)

An internal report suggests interpersonal conflicts are hurting morale among the people who handle 911 calls at the RCMP Manitoba telecommunications centre, which has been plagued by staff shortages.

More than half the employees who participated in the workplace assessment said co-workers with a negative attitude are having a significant impact on the overall environment of the Operational Communications Centre, the report said.

It said some workplace conduct was described as "bullying or harassing."

"People made comparisons of the work environment to high school or grade school with some describing these behaviours as 'mean girls,'" the report said.

RCMP telecommunications centres across Canada are facing staffing shortages, with some having vacancies of more than 50 per cent.

The vacancy rate for Manitoba D Division's communications centre was 32 per cent as of October 2017, putting Manitoba in about the mid-range for vacancies at the telecommunications centres.

The workplace assessment, dated June 2016, looked into "interpersonal workplace conflict" in the D Division communications centre, and was released by the RCMP under an access-to-information request.

Its purpose was to find ways to create a positive and productive work environment, "not to establish fault or blame of any employee."

The Manitoba division said it won't comment on the report because staff understood their comments were to be confidential.

The report said the telecommunications centre had 58 employees at the time of the assessment, 49 of whom participated in the assessment through interviews or written responses.

The majority of participants "love the work they do, helping the public and making a difference in people's lives," the report said. "Many felt great satisfaction knowing they are providing a significant role in assisting [RCMP officers] and helping them stay safe."

At the same time, it acknowledged the heavy demands of the job, which can involve life-and-death situations.

Leadership style concerns

In addition to answering 911 calls, telecommunications operators do risk assessments for the officers they dispatch to calls and help prepare them for potential dangers.

Almost two-thirds of participants in the workplace assessment identified concerns with leadership styles in the OCC. The report noted that sometimes, supervisors are not seen as dealing with conflicts as they arise.

"Many employees do not feel it is their role to get involved when they observe disrespectful or inappropriate behaviour," the report said, adding "there is some fear of repercussions for voicing their concerns, such as being 'thrown under the bus' or labelled a 'trouble-maker.'

People at all levels within the unit refer to people who are off sick as 'off duty mad.'- RCMP D Division  workplace assessment

"There is a significant real and perceived lack of trust throughout the OCC," the report said.

"Employees are less inclined to help out on the job or in other ways such as swapping shifts to accommodate people. This has created an atmosphere of having to watch your back, not trust co-workers or leaders, and making assumptions about their motives or actions.

"Several participants expressed feeling drained or having energy zapped by those who are consistently complaining, venting, or in bad moods, and citing that the job is already stressful enough without adding the internal turmoil."

Employees told the reviewer those factors make it hard to come to work every day, which compounds the staff vacancy problem.

Increases absenteeism

"This then has the potential to lead to more health issues which then increases absenteeism or people end up coming to work when perhaps they really shouldn't," the report said.

It found the process of employees taking sick leave, referred to as ODS — "off duty sick" — was fraught with problems.

"A quarter of the participants identified issues around ODS, specifically the lack of trust of those who say they are not well. People at all levels within the unit refer to people who are off sick as 'off duty mad' (ODM). There is a perception that some people are abusing the system," the report noted, giving rise to a policy that employees who have been on sick leave are restricted from working overtime.

That policy sometimes leads employees to report to work when they are not well, or feeling pressured to return to work before they're medically fit to do so, the report said.

A Manitoba RCMP spokesperson says public safety is not affected by staff shortages at the division's Operational Communications Centre. (RCMP)

D Division told CBC it has made progress in recruiting, with 10 new telecommunications officers in training. RCMP spokesperson Tara Seel said a recruiting process just ended on Jan. 5, resulting in more than 250 applications.

Public safety is not affected by the staff shortages, Seel said.

"Our telecommunication operators are dedicated employees who care very much about keeping the public and our officers safe. They remain focused on core duties of call-taking, dispatching and status keeping of patrol units," she said in an email.

"There has been a reduction of supplementary tasks, such as calling tow trucks, to focus on calls from the public."

The workplace assessment report noted, "Several participants identified the loss of part-time employees as having an effect on the unit in terms of being able to manage staff shortages."

It said interpersonal conflict was reported between co-workers, between supervisors and other supervisors, and between workers and their supervisors. In some cases, unresolved past conflicts continued to have an impact on staff.

The report makes seven recommendations aimed at creating a respectful workplace culture in the future.

They include developing a conflict prevention and resolution protocol, and providing staff with conflict management training in the form of a two-and-a-half day course available to all RCMP employees.

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