More than 200 current and former Ballarat Health Services staff were interviewed for a scathing workplace review by Justitia Lawyers and Consultants. The report’s executive summary was released on Thursday, which is summarised today.
The report’s author Sarah Rey said it was “not anticipated that such a large number of individuals would come forward to share their experiences and that their observations would be overwhelmingly of a similar nature”.
1 Inappropriate behaviour and bullying
All 200 interviewees reported they had experienced or witnessed bullying and inappropriate behaviour, including yelling, screaming, throwing things, attacking people in team meetings, negative remarks about race, sexuality, personal appearance or religion, disclosing confidential information to colleagues, being threatened for complaining, ignoring and not inviting staff members to meetings and threatening staff members’ certification.
“Interviewees described being yelled at by their immediate supervisors at handovers, in team meetings, in front of other staff and sometimes in front of patients. Unwanted shift changes and changes to hours were also common. Physical threats and intimidation were also raised….Staff frequently worked around or ignored bad behaviour.”
2 Favouritism and nepotism
Of the 200 interviewed, 81.5 per cent said favouritism and nepotism existed.
Nepotism occurred when family and friends of existing BHS employees, particularly in senior positions, were given roles for which they were underqualified or for which others were better qualified.
Favouritism occurred when some employees were given preferential treatment, such as better shift times, receiving promotion ahead of others with the same qualifications and skills, first preference for leave dates, more training and having poor conduct or performance overlooked.
“Interviewees stated that such practices ultimately decreased staff morale and negatively affected the quality of care provided to patients. Further it was suggested that favouritism and nepotism perpetuated and entrenched a culture of bullying because under-skilled or unqualified staff strongly protected their jobs from any perceived threats.”
3 Retribution fears
Retribution fears were reported by 85 per cent of interviewees. Examples included unnecessary performance management, not being considered for promotion and having rosters created or changed as a punishment.
“These fears were real, as interviewees observed that those that did speak up were often subjected to less favourable treatment, generally by their manager. As a result, interviewees stated that staff members generally chose not to report inappropriate or bullying behaviour.”
4 Recruitment and supervision
Of the 200 interviewed, 74.5 per cent reported recruitment and supervision practices were not appropriately followed. Examples included policies about submitting expressions of interest, performing higher duties and promotions existing but not being followed, and a lack of position descriptions and training.
“Poor practices in this area were alleged to have resulted in managerial appointments for individuals who either did not have the skills or did not have the qualifications to adequately perform in the role.”
Excessive workload was identified by 75 per cent of interviewees, with three main areas of BHS identified as problematic.
Staff in these areas were not paid overtime but were told they had to work the extra hours. Time in lieu was offered but there was no system in place for them to take it.
“It was also reported that workload distribution was a tool used for the punishment and reward of employees. For instance, interviewees observed favoured staff received lighter, easier duties while those who were not favoured were allocated heavier, more challenging work.”
6 Human resources role
A negative experience dealing with human resources was mentioned by nearly 70 per cent of interviewees.
These included complaints not being dealt with in a timely manner, with some taking several months, not followed up at all or no follow up after an initial meeting; a demand for written complaints despite fears of retribution; being called into meetings with HR without knowing its nature or who would be present, and concerns about complaint record keeping.
Dispute resolution processes often included “mediation” whereby the employee complaining was encouraged to face the alleged perpetrator “one-on-one” in circumstances where this was not appropriate, and many interviewees felt HR only appeared to value the manager’s viewpoint.
After reporting complaints against a manager, staff often found themselves facing a counter-claim or a performance management review, and there were often negative outcomes for complainants, such as going on sick leave, resigning or leaving BHS with a pay-out.
“The interviewees reported that they did not trust HR and that they felt their confidence was breached.”
7 Harm to staff
Of the past employees interviewed, 93 per cent said they had left due to bullying.
Many said they had ongoing stress, anxiety and depression and felt their careers had been ruined by their BHS experiences. Others were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or major depressive disorders, had engaged in self-harm or had suicidal thoughts.
A high percentage said they had signed confidentiality deeds when they left BHS with a pay-out while others reported taking leave due to bullying or harassment.
8 Other comments
The report concluded certain leaders “do not work collaboratively” and they were “autocratic and passive-aggressive”.
“It would appear that a preoccupation with financial and budgetary imperatives may sometimes have resulted in fewer resources and less attention being allocated to the measures required to maintain a healthy workplace culture. Some interviewees also reported concerns about patient care because of poor management practices.”
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