Hiba Mahamadi 30 January 2018

Council called out on bullying and harassment

Cheshire East Council has a bullying and harassment problem, the Local Government Association (LGA) has concluded.

A report into the council's organisational culture commissioned by the council found that, in the last six months, 14% of respondents said they had been bullied and 24% said they had witnessed bullying.

The report said the bullying described was particularly from ‘people who have power,’ including politicians, senior managers and line managers.

Former head of workforce at the LGA, Sarah Messenger, who conducted the review, noted: ‘Some people are so scarred by what’s happened to them or others that they remain afraid to put their head above the parapet.

'Some people would prefer to leave than raise a grievance.

‘It was alarming to hear how many staff said that they would never reveal that they work for the council once outside.’

The findings are based on a survey with council staff and interviews with the council leader, acting chief executive, portfolio holder for corporate services, head of human resources and trade union Unison, as well as staff surveys from 2016, disciplinary cases, whistleblowing cases and health and wellbeing reports.

It comes after the council suspended three senior officers last year, including chief executive Mike Suarez, chief operating officer Peter Bates and head of legal services Bill Norman.

Ms Messenger said that these suspensions resulted in fear and uncertainty among other staff members.

Respondents also spoke about a ‘macho culture’ within the organisation, which featured swearing and a fear of making mistakes.

Although most council employees did not think bullying was an issue – with 90% of the respondents saying they were treated with respect – Ms Messenger said it was still an issue that needed to be tackled.

The report concluded that the council needed to establish a ‘tone’ for the organisation’s work culture so that employees know how they should interact with each other.

Ms Messenger noted that because the council had not defined a respectful organisational culture since its inception in 2009 it resulted in a vacuum and allowed those in authority to abuse their positions.

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