PPMA launches campaign to tackle public sector bullying

The Public Services People Managers Association (PPMA) has launched a campaign calling for bullying in the public sector to be treated as a public health issue

The Out of The Shadows campaign, launched today (26 July), aims to gather the largest dataset on harassment and bullying within the public sector ever collated. The plan is to inform clearer legislation and a better understanding of the issue.

PPMA president Karen Grave told HR magazine that high-profile cases of harassment and bullying in the sector, such as the scandal at Staffordshire Hospital in 2010, have confirmed the need to take formal action. She added that her own personal experiences have also inspired her to tackle the issue.

“I have experienced bullying personally and moved past it, but hearing from others’ experiences – from executives to people working in HR themselves – makes you realise the full extent of the problem and how damaging it is,” she said.

“Bullying can absolutely have an effect on your mental health, your physical health, and your relationships. It has led to deaths. It should be treated as a public health issue, but at the moment there is no meaningful data or definitive legal framework on what actually constitutes bullying.

“We recognised that once we have a clear understanding of bullying and of people’s experiences, and the data, we would be able to recognise some of the drivers, to formally identify links with leadership and culture, and find the tools to tackle this.”

A 260-question survey to be answered by people who have experienced or witnessed bullying, and by trade union representatives and HR professionals who are involved in resolving confrontations, will form part of the campaign. The plan is to launch the survey on 30 August and run this for three months.

The campaign has already received backing from several organisations, including the Crown Commercial Service and software providers including Oracle, Penna and Neyber.

Graves added that HR has not always dealt well with accusations of bullying. “One of the things we have heard over and over again from people reporting bullying, harassment or victimisation is that processes are cumbersome, people feel HR is often on the side of the employer, and that HR won’t stand up to leaders when there are problems,” she said.

"It’s difficult for HR, because we often have to deal with people who are the most vulnerable or the most confrontational. We know that if a problem is presented to us we have to follow a set of organisational procedures. But if across HR and OD we can get an understanding and start sharing those experiences we can make a difference. It’s 2019, we’ve waited long enough.”