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Workplace bullying remains high among Tasmanian public servants

A recent survey of 8675 state public servants returned a mixed bag of results suggesting respondents are self-confident and proud of their roles, but have less confidence in their superiors, while workplace bullying, stress and struggles to maintain a good work-life balance are persistent issues.

Almost a quarter (23%) said they had been bullied at work in the previous year but only 39% of them reported it, according to the 2018 Tasmanian State Service employee survey, which collected the views of about 30% of the state government’s workforce.

A 2016 employee survey found a similar result from a similar sample: 22% reported a personal experience of bullying at work — defined as “persistent and repeated negative behaviour directed at an employee/s that creates a risk to health and safety” — and 33% said they had witnessed it.

There are also a range of more heartening statistics, some that are mildly contradictory and a sense that in general, Tasmanian public servants are much more positive about themselves than their colleagues and their bosses.

Another of the more worrying views was that only 26% of respondents think significant change is managed well in their agency, although only 53% confirmed their current workgroup was directly affected by major changes from the government in the 12 months before they answered the survey in September or early October.

Only half the story

Unfortunately, the data published by the Tasmanian State Service Management Office only tells half of the story. The agency only publishes combined figures for affirmative responses so it is impossible to say how many disagreed or strongly disagreed with each statement, and how many said they didn’t know or had no opinion either way.

The agency even warns readers not to assume that everyone who didn’t agree must have disagreed, while keeping the full set of statistics under wraps.

In 2018, 60% said bullying was “not tolerated” at their agency and 75% either agreed or strongly agreed that their agency had policies to report improper conduct and behaviour.

But only 47% were willing to endorse the statement: “I am confident that I would be protected from reprisal for reporting improper conduct.”

Three quarters also say people in their workgroup treat each other with respect, 68% report “good team spirit” among their immediate colleagues to some degree, and 64% feel confident that fairness and respect is extended to everyone in their agency.

There wasn’t much outright positivity about senior managers; only 50% agree or strongly agree they “provide clear strategy and direction” and 54% feel their bosses model the agency’s values.

As for managers themselves, 54% report receiving “appropriate training and guidance to manage employees” and 51% say there are “good procedures in place” to support them.

Mixed bag on diversity

Views on diversity are also a mixed bag. Only 55% of respondents agree their agency welcomes and supports people with disability, 74% say the same of “people from different cultural backgrounds” compared to 73% for people with caring responsibilities and 65% for Indigenous staff, while 60% say there is “a positive attitude” to LGBTIQ employees, 66% think age is not a barrier to success and 72% say the same of gender.

At the same time, 73% say their agency fosters an inclusive environment, 78% say their immediate manager has “a positive attitude towards employees with diverse backgrounds” and 80% say the same of their workgroup.

The SSMO reports 57% were satisfied to some degree with their work-life balance and 59% said their workgroup encouraged and supported employees to have a good work-life balance. Asked whether they could manage work and personal issues “in a way that didn’t impact on their stress levels”, 57% said yes.

Nearly everyone (97%) thinks they personally provide help and support to others at work, but only 82% say they receive it. A solid 96% also thinks they “have the ability and skills to deal with a wide range of people” but not as many say they get appropriate training and guidance (56%) or support (61%) to work with members of the public.

About 84% of respondents say they “clearly understand” what is expected of them at work, but just 56% agree or strongly agree their work is assessed against clear criteria. Positive views about performance management are relatively common but satisfaction with learning and development opportunities was a bit low at 53%.

While 93% think their job is important and about 80% enjoy their work, with a similar proportion feeling a “sense of accomplishment” and believing they are being used to their full potential, only 52% feel they receive adequate recognition for it, 54% say their agency motivates them to achieve its objectives and 56% say it inspires them to do their best.

On the whole, 69% were satisfied with their current job at the end of last year and 64% were satisfied with their agency as an employer.

The Mandarin asked the State Service Management Office on Tuesday if the full results were available but it did not respond before publication.

Author Bio

Stephen Easton

Stephen Easton is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's previously reported for Canberra CityNews and worked on industry titles for The Intermedia Group.