Confronting Misconduct: Insights from the Public Service

The recent release of the 2013-14 Australian Public Service (APS) State of the Service report provides some interesting kernels of data around workplace misconduct, including corruption and bullying. In particular, the report paints quite a discomforting picture of misconduct being on the increase – despite everything that the APS strives for via its statutory code of conduct, values statement and codified employment principles.

Employers beyond the public sector can take valuable lessons from the report regarding the insidious nature of workplace misconduct. Beyond issues of performance and discipline, activities such as bullying and corrupt practices can have significant impacts on workplace health, staff morale – and the bottom line.

Workplace trends

So what elements of workplace misconduct does the vast APS face? And is this just a government thing – or should all sectors actually take heed of these trends around misconduct? The key issues raised in Appendix 6 of the report include:

  • Misconduct accounts for 1 in 3 queries brought to the APS Ethics Advisory Service. 
  • Finalised code of conduct investigations rose in the current reporting year by 15%, from 516 to 592 investigations.
  • Substantiated breaches also rose in the same period from 75% to 81%, with a broader 20% increase since 2011. 
  • Interestingly within reporting trends, the majority of people in the workplace reported misconduct through clearly established mechanisms, such as an ethics unit or designated person in HR. In other circumstances, they sought outside help, such as from helplines or police.   
  • A disturbing 17% of employees experienced harassment or bullying, with a further 21% witnessing these behaviours in the workplace. 
  • The number of victims feeling able to report such misconduct fell from 43% to 37%. As some consolation, the reporting by staff who witnessed the harassment or bullying of others rose over the year. 
Sizing up the problem

There are certainly some sobering numbers there: misconduct and investigations are up, as are substantiated breaches. Yet victims don’t appear to be confident in reporting breaches. It is noble – yet unfortunate – that a victim’s colleagues will often need to report misdeeds. One glimmer of hope from the report is that employees will tend to use clear mechanisms for reporting misconduct, if these are provided. 

This is important to keep in mind; make the path clear and misconduct will be addressed before problems grow and/ or become entrenched. 

Communicate the basics

So what do we take from these figures? Firstly, it is crucial to develop good communication between management, HR and other staff about the rights and responsibilities of everyone in the workplace. This includes clear induction training on misconduct, intranet updates and seminars, and providing informal opportunities in teams to discuss both misconduct and reporting paths. And it is imperative to explain the meaning of specific terms such as misconduct, corruption and bullying to all employees – don’t expect their knowledge to be complete, simply as a result of common-sense. Trainers are regularly stunned by the divergence of opinion about what is and is not appropriate behaviour in the workplace! 

Provide a clear reporting path

In terms of the best mechanisms for report misconduct and bullying – just remember one word: accessible. Thinking logically, if a stressed worker in in danger of sustaining a workplace psychological injury due to bullying… or the employer’s profits are fast dwindling through misappropriation… the last thing a victim or witness needs is a complex reporting path. And in the longer term, the health, safety, performance and productivity of any business will improve when misconduct has been headed off at the pass. Forget dense forms and lengthy chains of discussion – have one or two simple methods that staff can utilise when reporting. Above all, encourage and commend the actions of any staff member who comes forward. Regardless of outcome, it is important to have issues of potential misconduct brought up in a timely way. 

Lessons to learn

The mammoth APS is an employer that necessarily keeps an eye on the scourge of workplace misconduct. As evidenced in the State of the Service report, misconduct is disappointingly on the rise. 

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Employers of all sizes can certainly take lessons from these growing numbers, ensuring that processes and training to counter misconduct are appropriately designed and embedded across the business.

Content retrieved from: http://www.wiseworkplace.com.au/_blog/WISE_Blog/post/confronting-misconduct-insights-from-the-public-service/.