The leader of Cheshire East Council, Councillor Rachel Bailey and acting chief executive, Kath O'Dwyer invited the Local Government Association to undertake an independent review into organisational culture, with particular focus on bullying and harassment.
The council has now received a full report following the review of the authority's culture which concludes that there is evidence that bullying and harassment does take place at the council. While this affects a minority of employees, it is having a profound effect on those who experience or witness it.
The independent review was undertaken by Sarah Messenger, a workforce consultant from the Local Government Association. Ms Messenger reviewed data from a range of sources and staff, managers, trade union representatives and councillors contributed to focus groups. Individuals also supplied information to the review by email and in response to a culture survey on bullying and harassment.
The report recognises that the council is taking positive action to minimise inappropriate behaviour and recognises that the majority of staff have neither witnessed nor experienced bullying in the last six months. However, it reveals that over 200 people said they had personally experienced bullying in the past 6 months and over 360 people said they had personally witnessed bullying in the past six months.
These figures were the result of an anonymous staff survey, issued whilst the review was underway, providing everyone with an opportunity to have a say on the organisational culture. The survey revealed that the majority of those who completed the survey consider Cheshire East Council a good place to work and have neither experienced nor witnessed bullying in the past 6 months. However, 14% of respondents said that they have experienced bullying and 24% have witnessed bullying in the past 6 months.
Many staff acknowledged that there has been a noticeable improvement over the last year or so. However, the review shows that experience is mixed across the organisation, with some contributors speaking bravely about what they had experienced or feared, while others said that they had not experienced or heard of any instances of inappropriate behaviour.
Acting chief executive Kath O'Dwyer said: "Bullying and harassment are not acceptable in the workplace. Our staff, quite rightly, should expect to be able to come to work and be treated fairly and with respect.
"We are pleased to hear that most of our staff have never experienced or witnessed either harassment or bullying in the workplace but we will not shy away from the fact that some staff have experienced behaviour from others within the organisation that is not acceptable and, as such, I am saddened by some of the review findings but we are determined to take all necessary action to address the issues of concern identified within the review.
"We have fantastic and talented staff working on behalf of our communities and they have a right to work without fear and in an organisation with a positive culture. We are fully committed to building upon our strengths and addressing any concerns that our staff may have shared. I welcome the frankness and openness of all those staff, members and trade unions representatives who contributed.
"We want to continue building a supportive and respectful place of work and we have already started to address a number of the issues raised in this report. This includes a programme of work to further improve wellbeing in work for all staff, a review of our grievance, bullying and harassment policy and procedure, a review of whistleblowing policy and a revised constitution.
"The report is extremely helpful in highlighting what more we can do to ensure our working environment is positive, fair and productive for all our staff."
The full report has been published today (Monday, 29th January) and can be found on the Cheshire East Council website.