On Tuesday last week, a Queensland Police Service Human Services Officer (HSO) sent out a District-wide email to the Gold Coast police district offering support for victims of organisational bullying and harassment. The email read;
“If you have ever been bullied harassed intimidated victimised or discriminated at work and then this email is for you. We are starting up a support group for sworn and unsworn members to help support you and begin to remove the isolation. A problem shared is a problem halved. If you have followed the QPS grievance policy, have seen no action from your complaint or requests for something to be done, this support group might be for you. Weekly coffee catch up Friday mornings 9am. First catch up Friday 1 June 2018. We have some guest speakers (internal and external to QPS) lined up who have walked this well trodden path, survived and are now thriving and will be sharing their stories. Take a positive step for your mental health. You are not alone in this. If you would like to come along or for more info email, text or call me”.
The email appeared to be an obvious attempt by the HSO to address the isolation that results from organisational bullying and harassment, and to improve support for victims. With QPS management actively promoting their ‘OUR PEOPLE MATTER’ campaign, you would think such an initiative would be welcomed. Disappointingly (although not surprisingly) it has been reported that the email sent by the HSO was met with an ambush by senior QPS management, who have allegedly immediately put a stop to this initiative despite publicly declaring that their people matter.
Reading between the lines, it appears that this HSO has a good insight into the extent and impact of the widespread systemic bullying that plagues the QPS, and clearly identified a need for more support for bullied QPS employees. It is well known that QPS employees are fearful of reprisal if they speak out, and that those brave enough to report bullying or other wrongful conduct are labelled and targeted. Directions from the Commissioner of Police for sworn and unsworn staff not to discuss complaints and internal investigations with their peers only adds to the isolation bullied members and whistleblowers experience. These directions also facilitate the concealment of a significant issue that has seen many a dedicated officer fall victim not only to organisational bullying, but the failure by the organisation to take bullying complaints seriously. I have seen too many cases where complaints of bullying against members of management are swept under the carpet. In contrast, I have also seen cases where internal investigators go out of their way to ‘brick’ a frontline officer in order to satisfy another agenda. Generally speaking (and of course there are exceptions), how your complaint is handled largely depends on whether management are intent on targeting or protecting the subject member. If the subject member is a member of senior management, you can almost guarantee it will be the latter.
Whilst I encourage any genuine effort to support sworn and unsworn staff, I wondered if QPS employees would have been comfortable attending such support groups with the lack of trust many have in QPS management. A few officers commented to me that they would never attend a group and discuss their experiences for fear of being further victimised for doing so. Others welcomed the idea as a step in the right direction to feeling that someone actually cares about this fairly substantial problem. None the less, if the people of the QPS really do matter, you would expect that any support initiative would be encouraged by the hierarchy.
A study by former HSO and Psychologist Dr Tim White conducted in 2009/2010 found that ‘mateship’ in the QPS reduced the likelihood of suicide (White, 2010; ‘Mateship’, an enabling and protective factor associated with Queensland Police suicide). In contrast, isolation and a lack of mateship was found to be a contributing factor to suicide ideation and suicide attempts (White, 2010). That being the case, and with the expectation that the QPS should be doing everything possible to prevent such tragedies, it is greatly disappointing to hear that the hierarchy have yet again maintained their usual form behind closed doors whilst publically promoting that they care about their staff.
I have had both positive and negative experiences with HSO’s in the QPS, however I commend the HSO in this case for firstly recognising a need for support, and secondly for having the courage to distribute this email in the current organisational climate. In an organisation that is known internally for ‘ruling by intimidation’, I wonder how long it will take for the HSO to become the next victim of bullying as a result of standing up and attempting to address the problem?