City resists call to release internal harassment data
The City of Edmonton is refusing to release employee survey results that show how many workers report seeing or experiencing harassment on the job.
But even the city’s general survey results from September 2016 show pockets of low morale among women.
In three branches — real estate and housing, fire rescue services and human resources — women answered Edmonton’s most recent employee engagement survey in ways that show much lower job satisfaction than men.
In the real estate and housing branch, for example, 68 per cent of the women said their supervisor encourages them to offer opinions and ideas, compared to 91 per cent of the men.
Sixty women and 47 men answered the survey. On 35 out of 42 questions, women recorded at least 10-per-cent lower satisfaction than men.
Postmedia requested results broken down by gender and branch to see whether complaints about a flawed system for dealing with harassment could be seen at a larger scale. Employees have said bullying, harassment and discrimination are creating pockets of toxic working conditions that are not being investigated and punished appropriately.
A series of interviews with employees, councillors and union officials found employees going on stress leave, contacting their councillor, suffering in silence or quitting rather than trusting the city’s human resources staff to stop it.
After Postmedia first reported the issue Tuesday, many more employees and former employees wrote with their stories.
The survey data tied to harassment questions could show where the issues are most serious. But city officials said the results are too “sensitive” to release. They did not even mention the data existed until questioned about it.
Postmedia has filed a freedom of information request for the harassment data under provincial law.
Human resources branch manager Jeff MacPherson said releasing the harassment data might reduce the number of staff willing to fill out the survey next time.
The city has not released data for any work area or gender group smaller than 25 members to protect privacy.
The 2016 survey had a 72 per cent response rate.
“Wow, it sounds like there’s a problem they don’t want to acknowledge,” said Lise Gotell, a University of Alberta professor in women’s and gender studies, who was surprised the data on harassment was withheld.
Issues of harassment and sexual harassment are widespread in many workplaces and are not being dealt with, she said.
In addition to the human cost, harassment costs money in stress leaves, staff turnover and in decreased efficiency.
“It’s a significant issue; the city should want to identify this issue and confront it head on,” Gotell said.
Mayor Don Iveson said council has heard anecdotes suggesting it was a problem.
That’s why councillors have asked for a full audit on corporate culture, due to be released Thursday.
“We wanted a rigorous and independent review,” he said, adding he’s been told it will include some important recommendations.
City officials said they’re working on a new model to deal with harassment complaints.
Rather than the current system — housed within human resources, and with no anonymity or little protection for complainants — initial complaints would go straight to the Office of the City Manager.
Internal human resources staff would investigate and a panel of employees from different departments would make a ruling.
But union officials said complaints should be handled by a third party or independent ombudsperson if the city wants to reestablish trust with its employees.
Linda Crockett, head of Alberta Bullying, gets calls from many employees of large organizations, including the City of Edmonton, government of Alberta and Alberta Health Services.
It’s a widespread issue, where many people are afraid to speak out and get further punished.
“It should be someone separate from (management and human resources) or they’ll never rebuild trust,” she said.