Could it be that the Canadian federal government, and in particular the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, is so laser-focused on melding the word “harassment” with the emotionally evocative image of sexual harassment that it is missing the embarrassing root cause of harassment being incompetent structures, systems, and senior leadership?
Fact: “Harassment”in the workplace occurs. It occurs in all 86 Canadian federal government agencies according to the latest (2017) publicly available survey that includes 174,544 employee responses. According to employees, 18% of all government workers on average experienced one of the many forms of harassment defined in the survey, conducted by the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. Of that, about 16% of men agree they have been harassed and 19% of women employees.
Fact: Harassment in the RCMP as defined in the survey is no greater than the average for all 86 government agencies (this includes a comparison of RCMP sworn members and RCMP Public Service Employees).
If one judges by news media and social media reports, plus the focus of national RCMP senior management in Ottawa and across several RCMP divisions in Canada, “harassment” is synonymous with sexual comments or gestures (one of the definitions of harassment in the federal government survey). Indeed, such is the basis of various and sundry lawsuits against the RCMP by women experiencing such an unsavory and disgusting behavior from others. And such is the microscopic focus of RCMP efforts to “reduce harassment in the workplace,” leaving the impression of Hannibal and his hordes running rampant, pillaging all levels of police services.
But here’s another fact. “Sexual comments or gestures,” across all federal government agencies (including the RCMP) is 10% of the total 18% of all employees agreeing they have been harassment. That’s 1.8% of all 174,544 employees agreeing that the harassment they experienced is explicitly sexual in nature.
So if “sexual comments and gestures” are not the major driver of feeling harassed, what is? To understand the significance of the answers requires a peek into what creates high morale, job satisfaction, engagement, and a healthy emotional and physical workplace.
Hundreds of scientific studies of tens of thousands of employees in Canada and elsewhere confirm the following: Happy, content, and emotional healthy employees exist in workplaces where there’s excellent internal communication, they feel respected for their actions and knowledge, are involved in decision-making, are treated fairly, and have excellent supervision and management.
The national federal survey of Canadian employees shows the following reasons employees feel harassed: Almost half (48%) cite “unfair treatment;” close to half of all employees (45%) feel “excluded and ignored;” 41% cite “aggressive behavior” as the reason for feeling harassed; and 40% describe harassment as “excessive control” over them in the workplace.”
Another question in the federal survey asked employees which factors caused the greatest stress and anxiety in their workplace. The biggest cause (33%) was pay and compensation (you can thank the scandalous Phoenix pay system and its impact on public service employees). A heavy workload was cited by 29%. And what about “harassment and discrimination?” Only 8% of employees agreed harassment was causing them stress and anxiety.
Bottom line? Yes, sexual harassment is completely unacceptable in the workplace. But the larger, and I argue likely a contributing factor to sexual harassment by some very rotten apples, is what the facts show: A government (and RCMP) with crumbling structures of management and leadership and abysmal systems and processes that are directly contributing to a stormy workplace climate. Too bad such complicated structural and organizational factors don’t quite catch the headlines. Too bad senior RCMP leadership can’t understand or perhaps accept, that their leadership is part of the cause leading to the effects.