Bullying not just a Parliamentary problem
While New Zealand should be proud of its reputation for anti-corruption and good governance, there are behavioural issues throughout the nation’s workplaces, argues the School of Government's Dr Michael Macaulay.
Debbie Francis’s report into behaviour at Parliament, published on Tuesday, laid bare a culture of normalised bullying, victimisation and harassment. It is an important piece of work and needs to be properly considered.
But it is not surprising. In fact, the report’s major findings reflect the exact same findings as other research throughout different sectors of New Zealand.
Last year, researchers from Victoria University of Wellington co-authored a major report on organisational misconduct throughout New Zealand and Australia across all sectors: public, private and not for profit. The research covered nearly 18,000 respondents, approximately 2000 of whom represented New Zealand.
This report shows almost identical patterns to the ones found by Francis.
The nature of misconduct across Parliament and the New Zealand public sector, for example, are directly comparable. The Victoria University of Wellington research shows that in the New Zealand public sector, the top three areas of misconduct reported are: (1) bullying and victimisation; (2) unfair employment practices; and (3) discrimination and harassment.
The rationale for not reporting issues are also the same. Again, the findings mirror the report into Parliament by demonstrating that the reason victims did not report problems was out of fear and distrust: they did not trust the process and feared retribution.
And it isn’t just these two pieces of work that tell the same story. Similar findings were produced by the Public Service Association’s work into bullying; bullying was a major issue that emerged through the Commission of Inquiry into the New Zealand Police and subsequent reports by the Office of the Auditor-General; indeed, the State Services Commission’s own in-house survey of integrity and standards gave us the same story back in 2013.
Repeated evidence shows that, while New Zealand should be proud of its reputation for anti-corruption and good governance, there are behavioural issues throughout the nation’s workplaces.
In part, these collective findings may simply reflect shifts in social attitudes. People are calling out misbehaviour that may have traditionally been tolerated. We should also acknowledge the considerable work various agencies have put into improving their own standards of behaviour. The State Services Commission, for example, created new standards for internal reporting and has led a review of the Protected Disclosures Act. The State Services Actis also currently being reformed, which will almost certainly change the nature and definition of New Zealand’s public service values.
There is no doubt these are sincerely meant attempts to improve behaviour at work. But perhaps it is time to take a broader view. The Francis report argues for certain unique characteristics that lead to the issues it unearthed but there is very little unique about the behaviour itself in terms of its causes, its manifestations and its consequences. In those respects, the report is typical of everything else we know.
The issue is one of poor behaviour across multiple organisations and multiple sectors. Let us look at the issue in the round and establish a permanent body to act as a guiding hand for New Zealand standards. This should be made up domain-specific experts but also members of the public, and every member should have an equal say.
Behaviour is a collective rather than individual issue. Let us try and build that sense of collaboration for standards of conduct across New Zealand.