City re­sists call to re­lease in­ter­nal ha­rass­ment data

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - ELISE STOLTE

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.

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