ALMOST a quarter of staff surveyed at Cheshire East Council said they had witnessed workplace bullying in the past six months.

The striking figure of 24 per cent, which came from an anonymous survey of 1,509 employees, was revealed in a Local Government Association (LGA) report released on Monday, January 29.

Meanwhile, 14 per cent of respondents said they had personally experienced bullying at the council.

The survey – which was responded to by 41 per cent of staff – was used by the LGA as part of a review into workplace culture at CEC, which began last November.

Sarah Messenger, LGA consultant, also spoke to Unison, staff and councillors, and read past reports, emails and an earlier staff survey from 2016 before concluding that bullying ‘is having a profound impact on those who are experiencing it’.

“Cheshire East Council has been on a difficult journey over the past eight years but has achieved many things of which it is rightly proud,” she said.

“There is a clear sense that whilst challenges remain, the council now has the right political and managerial leadership to continue to steer the organisation in the direction it wishes to go.”

The review found that some employees were ‘scarred’ by bullying, although others who had not experienced bullying were ‘somewhat shocked by the stories’.

Ms Messenger has made 12 recommendations for the council to improve its workplace culture, including for elected members and senior managers to set the ‘tone of the organisation’.

She said: “The history of CEC since its inception in 2009 suggests that an opportunity was missed at that time to define and establish a positive and respectful organisational culture enjoyed by all.

“This created a vacuum which was filled by the behaviours of some individuals with power which has resulted in organisational confusion and very different experiences across the workforce some of which can be described as bullying or inappropriate behaviour.

“For those affected by bullying or bad treatment, the impact on them and the organisation is concerning – resulting in people being absent through sickness, leaving the organisation, taking out grievances, seeking help from their trade union and generally undermining their levels of engagement with the organisation.”

The report found that many employees said they would not admit to working for CEC outside the office, and some gave ‘examples of abuse’ they have faced from the public because of it.

Years of budget cuts were found to have made staff feel ‘under pressure’ or ‘undervalued’, while some staff felt that managers should be ‘more open and accountable’ in explaining their decisions, and that others had not been properly trained for their roles.

The review also highlighted some reports of councillors placing ‘excessive demands’ on staff, with a ‘you will do as I say’ culture.

Other recommendations made in the review include presenting a new employment deal to make clear the standards CEC must set, setting up an independent hotline for staff who feel they have been bullied, and setting targets for bringing down the level of stress-related sickness at CEC.

Kath O’Dwyer, acting chief executive at CEC, has welcomed the review’s findings as ‘helpful in highlighting what more we can do to ensure our working environment is positive, fair and productive for all our staff’.

She said: “Bullying and harassment are not acceptable in the workplace. Our staff, quite rightly, should expect to be able to come to work and be treated fairly and with respect.

“We are pleased to hear that most of our staff have never experienced or witnessed either harassment or bullying in the workplace but we will not shy away from the fact that some staff have experienced behaviour from others within the organisation that is not acceptable.

“As such, I am saddened by some of the review findings but we are determined to take all necessary action to address the issues of concern identified within the review.

“We want to continue building a supportive and respectful place of work and we have already started to address a number of the issues raised in this report.

“This includes a programme of work to further improve wellbeing in work for all staff, a review of our grievance, bullying and harassment policy and procedure, a review of whistleblowing policy and a revised constitution.”