19 November 2021

More work required to improve public health workplace culture as bullying continues

| Lottie Twyford
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Canberra hospital

The initial review into workplace culture in 2019 revealed serious problems with bullying and harassment as well as an inefficient complaints process. Photo: George Tsotsos.

The second annual review into workplace culture in the ACT public health system has shown that while reform is underway, there’s still work to be done to address reports of bullying and harassment.

Although instances of bullying or inappropriate behaviour had decreased at ACT Health and Calvary Public Hospital, little had changed at Canberra Health Services.

One staff member responded to the survey saying that “there have been no changes in staff when there should have been – known perpetrators are still in their positions.”

Another noted, “there is a culture of fear”.

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith, who tabled the report in the Assembly last week, said this kind of staff feedback had proven there is more work to do, particularly around establishing expectations of positive workplace behaviour and holding people to account “when they are not living those behaviours”.

“We know that improving culture is not something that happens overnight,” she said.

Dave peffer

Canberra Health Services interim CEO Dave Peffer has said it’s not enough to simply make a difference. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Canberra Health Services interim CEO Dave Peffer said implementing programs was not enough if staff did not feel as though anything had changed.

“Work is underway to build team members’ courage and confidence, to empower them to call out behaviours that aren’t consistent with our values, and to escalate those matters if required,” he said.

Mr Peffer said anyone – no matter how senior their role – who was consistently demonstrating poor behaviour would be shown the door in the coming months.

“It’s line in the sand time and it’s about actually taking action against those who don’t exhibit the values and behaviours we expect to see,” he said.

“Some of those people are in very senior roles within the organisation and they shouldn’t be.”

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Ms Stephen-Smith said she is also aware work on improving workplace culture would need to continue beyond the implementation of the 20 recommendations.

She was, however, pleased that the second review had shown good progress in laying the foundations for system-wide cultural change – particularly in areas such as improving training programs and procedures for addressing complaints.

An initial review made public in 2019 made a damning assessment of the system, revealing problems with bullying, harassment and the inefficiency of the complaints process across the ACT Health Directorate, Canberra Health Services and Calvary Public Hospital Bruce.

It also listed a total of 92 actions under 20 recommendations to help implement change within the ACT health system.

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Ms Stephen-Smith said so far, eight recommendations have been completed while significant progress has been made on the other 12.

She said out of 92 identified actions, 60 of these have now been completed, 26 of them are on track and six are being actively managed with all recommendations expected to be addressed by 30 June 2022.

The ACT Government has previously come under fire for the speed at which the recommendations made in the 2019 review are being implemented.

Opposition spokesperson on health, Giulia Jones, said the implementation of the cultural review recommendations continued to be a disappointment.

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A provocative comment, but certainly one explanation for the rise in bullying claims. Millennials who have been protected and nurtured in an overprotective school environment develop a sense of entitlement and resistance to any criticism of their work performance, which they have been taught to interpret as bullying. Almost a case of bullying upwards by threatening their managers with a complaint if the manager offends the fragile egos of these snowflakes.

Ah yes, a blame the victim approach despite repeated independent reviews finding there is a cultural and bullying.

Perhaps this is more around older dinosaurs finally being held to account for their bad behaviour and not liking the fact that their time in the sun and usefulness in the workplace is coming to an end .

In my experience a lot of the claims of bullying are from millennials being asked to do their job.

Public servants think they have a job for life. I’ve seen some woeful bludgers in my encounters with government bureaucrats. The worst just happen to be bullies to boot. Put the fear of sacking into their workplace agreements

“It’s line in the sand time and it’s about actually taking action against those who don’t exhibit the values and behaviours we expect to see,” he said.
“Some of those people are in very senior roles within the organisation and they shouldn’t be.”

This is the problem. Everybody signs up to the same rules, but some very senior people in ACTHD are still getting away with awful stuff even in the awareness that this cuture review has happened. They couldn’t care less what they do to staff. If you know who they are, and many people do, just seeing them continually get away with crazy behaviour makes it less likely for the staff to take anything seriously.

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