‘Culture of humiliation and intimidation’ at ACT Health, staff say

3 minute read

Full findings from a workplace culture survey initially redacted by ACT Health have been released, with staff reporting being bullied, harassed and overworked.

ACT Health staff were pushed to “breaking point” over the implementation of the territory’s digital health record, results from a staff survey initially suppressed by the department have shown.

A workplace culture review of ACT Health’s Digital Solutions Division found that staff had experienced “unsustainable pressure” to roll out the digital health record, leading to higher rates of burnout and mental health issues as well as “an amassing of excessive flex credits”, according to The Canberra Times.

General comments from interviews conducted with staff revealed a number of systemic issues had created “a culture of humiliation and intimidation” in the division, with multiple staff reporting unmanageable workloads, a “lack of trust” in management and incidents of bullying and harassment.

“People are not happy – in fact, they are really angry and anxious,” the survey said.

“A number of staff expressed fear of an emerging expectation that the ‘unsustainable’ workload of the past two years will be ‘the norm’ for the future.”

Staff were also aware of a culture of suppression across the department, with those attempting to complain about uncivil behaviour repeatedly silenced and diminished.

“[Leadership] will sweep problems under the carpet and will tolerate unacceptable behaviour if the person is a high performer,” staff members told interviewers.

“When staff complained about uncivil behaviour, [they] were told by another party to get over it.”

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Earlier this year, Canberra’s Shadow Minister for Health Leanne Castley accused ACT Health of redacting all negative findings from the workplace culture survey after obtaining a copy of CPM Review’s independent report through an FOI request in January this year, according to Canberra Daily.

Initial findings from the report showed that 76% of participants felt inspired to work for their division and 79% would recommend the ACT Health Directorate as a good place to work, with challenges identified in staff recruitment and a lack of development opportunities.

“The starkest example is a section on ‘Identified strengths’ which has been released almost in full, whereas ‘Specific areas of concern’ is heavily redacted,” Ms Castley told media in April.

“Releasing only positive commentary and not the negative erodes confidence and potentially decreases future participation in the survey because staff could feel their feedback had been disregarded.

“We know this Labor-Greens Government is anything but transparent when it comes to the many failures of the ACT health system, and this heavily redacted FOI request reinforces that perception.”

ACT Health contracted private investigative company CPM Reviews to carry out the review of the Digital Solutions Division’s workplace culture in August 2022.

According to the report, submitted to the department in January, only around 99 staff members completed the online survey, representing around 30% of the division’s workforce.

“The survey results indicate a relative lack of relevant experience amongst managers of staff relating to the understanding of people management policies and their practical implementation on a day-to-day basis,” the authors of the report wrote.

“These proportions in no way reflect upon technical skills, which were not directly reported on in the survey.

“They may, however, go some way to potentially explaining why staff were not confident that fair and proper processes relating to, for example, access to leave; training or development opportunities were well understood, put in place or followed.”

The independent review is now available in full on ACT Health’s website.

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