'Chaos & demoralisation' | Bullying complaints raised by every staff member at local council, union claims

Bullying complaints raised by every staff member at local council, union claims

Every employee at a local authority has made complaints about bullying and aggressive behaviour from senior officials, a union has claimed.

Unison chiefs say staff at Leigh Town Council have raised issues of “bullying and victimisation” by “aggressive councillors who try to barge into offices”, the Local Democracy Service reported.

A statement from the union said that employees felt councillors were coming into the office “with the intention of tearing up the rules and victimising employees”.

Councillors are not in direct charge of council employees, but staff members have nevertheless reported incidents such as councillors “trying to enter offices and order staff about and behaving in a bullying and aggressive way”, according to the LDR’s report.

“Every member of the office, administration and caretaking staff at Leigh Town Council have now raised official grievances about their treatment” a Unison statement said.

Claire Wormald, Unison branch secretary, said: “We have seldom seen such a united view from an entire group of staff. They are dedicated to running Leigh Town Council’s services and most are local residents themselves. They have only tried to do their best for the public. All they want is to be allowed to get on and do their jobs.

“One of our members commented to us that if councillors had worked with staff, they could have achieved a great deal by now, but instead they have ended up with chaos and demoralisation.”

Wormald added: “They seem to have steamed in regardless of council rules They now have no town clerk, have failed to make decisions and policies in a way that can actually be acted on, and have managed to disrupt normal council meetings and activities without any positive result that we can see.

“Who knows how much it will have already cost.”

UK workplace bullying claims hit record high

Far from an issue confined to the walls of the nation’s local authorities, the number of claims lodged in the Employment Tribunal which contain allegations of bullying has increased 44% from 581 to a record high of 835 in the past 12 months, according to research from employment law specialists Fox & Partners.

Fox & Partners say this jump in bullying claims should be a “canary in the mine” moment for many organisations. It is a strong signal that many leadership teams are failing to address a growth in toxic work cultures. Old fashioned strategies for identifying and dealing with problematic behaviours are breaking down in changing working environments. Challenges with differing attitudes to flexible working can also result in conflict with managers.

A virtual working environment can result in novel patterns of bullying that are difficult to identify. For example:

  • Cutting remarks being made on video calls that are difficult to address positively;

  • Deliberately leaving colleagues out of remote meetings;

  • Using messaging apps to gossip during colleagues’ presentations.

Toxic work culture can lead to loss of talent

A toxic workplace can lead to loss of talent. In addition, it can negatively impact employees’ performance and well-being, with those being bullied likely to be less productive than their colleagues.

Fox & Partners says that senior managers should follow the guidance of relevant regulators such as the FCA and SRA in relation to their workplace culture. They stress that an unhealthy culture can cause significant harm to both businesses and their employees.

Within financial services, the FCA adds that a toxic workplace can also negatively impact consumers, participants in financial markets and markets themselves.

Looking for more

Fox & Partners adds that the rise in workplace bullying claims shows that employers should look to make improvements to develop positive work environments. Changes often need to be made at a systemic level, not merely on a case-by-case basis. This includes encouraging more effective and varied methods of communication, as well as giving senior staff training and guidelines on providing feedback to avoid misinterpretation.

Ivor Adair, Partner at Fox & Partners, said: “Tackling workplace bullying is no easy task, particularly in changing work environments. The record number of bullying claims is a worrying sign that some leadership teams have struggled to maintain healthy workplaces during the shift to hybrid working.”

“It is important for senior managers to ensure they are well placed to detect and address concerns from all levels of staff before conflict escalates. Employers should consider a suite of techniques that will affect lasting change, such as coaching, or more structured supervision and pastoral care programs. Employers must also be willing to enforce company policies to protect and support colleagues at risk, if workplace cultures are to be improved.”

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