Workplaces are often fraught with politics and bureaucracy, despite the efforts of HR to lift those oppressors.
And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the culture within Westminster is no stranger to the sabotaging nature of workplace politics. Just last week, a ‘dirty dossier’ compiled by Westminster researchers exposed allegations of sexual harassment against Members of Parliament. However, new reports have emerged, finding that the entrenched power imbalance in Parliament is leading to bullying.
According to iNews, when the sexual harassment scandal came to light, the existence of WhatsApp groups, where staff share stories about MPs, also surfaced.
But it’s not just gossip; the report finds that the chat app is used as an informal system for staff to protect themselves and others. With no real formal HR protection, it’s junior workers only insight into the environment. In a blog post written in The Independent, a former MP’s assistant revealed that “there is no independent HR department, no proper grievance procedure, no real consequences for those who step out of line. Numerous aides who tried to report cases involving them or their colleagues were told there was nothing that could be done.”
iNews spoke to a number of staff who worked with MPs and wished to remain anonymous and found that many researchers leave within their first three months of joining, most likely a result of MP behaviour.
Staff recalled tales of MPs breaking out into tearful, screaming tantrums over issues such as food their staff bought them for lunch.
Another tells of a prominent parliamentarian who would refuse to talk to her staff for days as punishment. Her silence would only be broken by bouts of swearing, or throwing objects - phones, books and even handbags – at one unfortunate researcher. Another recalls one MP’s habit of ringing employees at home, at night, to shout and swear at them. Another added that one MP would punch filing cabinets and overturn furniture, whilst one MP threw shoes at his employees.
But, as with many of the harassment cases witnessed as of late, there is huge pressure on victims to stay quiet. The staff stayed silent out of fear that they could lose their jobs, or be singled out for harming the Party. Others worry about the threat of MPs ruining their careers. Two former researchers said that their ex-employers have attempted to warn other Parliamentarians off hiring them – despite promising good references.
Speaking exclusively to HR Grapevine, Rachel Suff, Public Policy Advisor at Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, explained that workplace allegations should never be automatically dismissed – no matter what position of power staff may be in.
She said: “Organisations should treat any form of alleged harassment seriously, not just because of the legal implications and because it can lead to under-performance, but also because people have the right to be treated with dignity and respect at work.”
“Employers should have in place a robust framework and policies to counter any potential harassment or discrimination against and employers should always make a record of complaints and investigations,” Suff added.
Yet, Suff believes when it comes to dealing with harassment, “prevention is better than a cure”. It is incumbent on HR to foster a workplace “which values difference, is free from hostility and based on tolerance.”