Encouraging Reporting

It’s a delicate balance; how do you encourage employees to speak up about bullying and harassment in the workplace if they fear doing so will harm their career?

This is a central issue stemming from the release of a draft report into harassment, bullying and discrimination in the practice of surgery. The report, released earlier this month, found nearly half of junior respondents reported that they had been subjected to some form of abuse. Senior surgeons and consultants were thought to be the primary source of the problems.

Some of the reasons for reluctance or failure to complain about poor treatment included:

  • Fear of damaging future employment prospects.
  • Lack of confidence in the handling of complaints.
  • Abuse of power and bystander silence.

In our previous article, we looked at the findings of the report.

This week we ask the question: What can you do if people are being abused at work but don’t feel they can report it?

Two of the most obvious solutions are to establish a whistleblower hotline, and to put confidential reporting systems in place.

Blowing the whistle

Setting up a whistleblower hotline allows for the whistleblower’s confidentiality and anonymity to be maintained as far as possible. Information on how to make a report and the process for the handling of tips should be clearly outlined and available.There are a number of other things employers can do to support whistleblowers, including:

  • Encourage whistleblowers to seek legal advice early and to foster strong partnerships with their legal advisors.
  • Encourage whistleblowers to use internal complaints processes before using formal external avenues (for example, complaints to government bodies).
  • Compensate for lost income, other damages and if applicable, reinstatement to employment.
Confidential reporting systems

The first step is to make sure that policies governing bullying and harassment in the workplace are available to all employees. Clear guidelines for the submission and handling of complaints or concerns should be in place, whether you set up a phone line or online reporting.

Other factors to consider include:

  • Engagement of an independent third party to receive complaints.
  • Allowing complaints to be lodged anonymously.
  • Allowing complainants to anonymously follow up on their complaints. 
  • Keeping a log of complaints details – their receipt, investigation and resolution.
  • Providing avenues for confidential advice to be given. 
Possible solutions in the surgery field

Interestingly, by far the most compelling ideas for fixing the problems in the practice of surgery came from the respondents themselves, many of whom chose to anonymously offer suggestions via online forums that were facilitated by the Expert Advisory Group (EAG) that was set up to research and write the draft report. They included: 

  • The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS)  to provide leadership to promote a culture of change.
  • Women should be appointed to leadership positions in RACS for role-modelling and mentoring.  An independent body, much like an ombudsman, to be established for complaints handling.
  • Data collection and reporting to be handled by an independent body.
  • An independent training body to be established to teach senior surgeons how to provide feedback and support for trainee doctors.
  • RACS governance to be reviewed to ensure its independence.Improved performance management, accountability and transparency.
  • Improve work/life balance issues.
  • Review of examinations and assessments to provide increased transparency and procedural fairness.

It remains to be seen what action will be taken. What is certain is that without change, society will pay the price for the attrition of junior surgeons who simply cannot (and shouldn’t have to) stand up to the abuses inflicted upon them by their superiors. The problems in this field are certainly not unique, but they do highlight the need for all employers to put appropriate protections and avenues for complaint into place.


WISE Workplace provides expert investigators to help conduct investigations into complaints of bullying and harassment as well as a variety of training courses to assist organisations to prevent and respond to complaints.  See below for upcoming course dates.
(Articulates with Cert IV in Government Investigations)
Location: Sydney
Date: 13-15 October
Location: Melbourne
Date: 1-3 December
Click here to find out more and book

Content retrieved from: http://www.wiseworkplace.com.au/_blog/WISE_Blog/post/cut-to-the-quick-part-ii-what-happens-next/.