It has recently been alleged that the NSW Police has a culture of bullying and harassment. The allegation made by both former and current officers is that the internal complaints system is being misused to target "good" officers. It is a timely reminder for leaders to reflect on whether their organisation's culture post-pandemic has remained consistent across all teams. More broadly, organisations should take active steps to audit and rectify workplace cultural issues rather than await adverse reporting.

Complaints system failure

The NSW Police policy of mandatory reporting of misconduct has resulted in hundreds of complaints being made by police against their colleagues some of which have no merit and are allegedly being used as a weapon to bully employees. It appears that because complaints are handled within the Local Area Command or police district, there is the risk of collusion which means the outcome of complaints of bullying and harassment is often unfair. The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission has recently identified that NSW Police lacked "processes to identify complaint clusters." The result is that serial bullies may go undetected for years.

Preoccupation with investigations

A former detective sergeant who worked at Wagga Wagga from 2013 to 2017 has reported that she was victimised after she supported her colleagues who had raised genuine complaints about poor treatment in the workplace. She said police policy prevented her former colleagues from exposing their bosses' bullying and harassment to the media. She made further allegations that some station inspectors spend 15 to 20 hours a week trying to find officers to investigate. Her theory on this preoccupation with investigations was that if employees were "not compliant and a 'yes' man (sic), (they) were targeted with complaints and generally pushed to the point where (they) didn't want to be there anymore."

Internal complaints

Internal complaints systems are integral to many large organisations to assist in reducing the risk of workplace issues such as bullying and harassment. Employees need a process whereby they can raise a grievance about another employee, who in many cases, may be their manager. However, organisations need to ensure their internal complaints system is not open to manipulation. A proactive approach to corporate culture is recommended in order to assess whether there are any concerns and plan for how the organisation can improve their workplace culture in 2021.

Culture audits

PCS has for several years worked with clients to address cultural problems or challenges in a number of ways, including:

  • conducting bespoke systems and workplace culture audits across an entire organisation or within a specific department or team;
  • conducting face-to-face and online training on subjects such as appropriate workplace behaviour, grievance handling, bullying and harassment and performance management;
  • being an outsourced provider for exit interviews; and
  • reporting to Boards and ExCo's on cultural initiatives and reforms within their organisation or a part thereof.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.