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Workforce reveals bullying a 'serious concern'

The policing workforce with protected characteristics have revealed a culture of bullying and harassment.

Forces must do more to improve workplace rights for officers and staff, leaders have been warned.

Policing organisations have been urged to accelerate efforts to create a more open and inclusive working environment by one of the lead organisation for training and staff development in policing. 

A review by Skills for Justice uncovered concerns over workplace rights and the response by forces to staffing issues.

A survey in June last year of 894 people working for police organisations across the country found 22.6% had experienced bullying, harassment, or unfair treatment in the workplace over the last twelve months.

They told researchers this was due to their gender, sexuality, marital status, parental status, religion, ethnicity, or gender reassignment.

Of those, 33.6% reported that this was concerning their gender or sex, 33.6% stated that this was related to their disability and 11.8% stated that this was because of their ethnicity or nationality.

It comes as Scotland’s Chief Constable warned more needs to be done to tackle misogyny, racism and discrimination within the ranks.

Skills for Justice revealed a sector that is struggling to deliver complex solutions to change workplace culture – but has managed to physical changes to working practices, even this was driven by the necessity of lockdown.

Inclusivity is still an issue – and awareness could be a factor in holding back improvement.

The report said: “It is important to recognise that the majority of respondents will not hold a protected characteristics that could potentially single them out for mistreatment.”

But where someone required adaptations to meet the demands of their role, 70.5% confirmed their employer had stepped up.

And the focus on Uplift has impacted on staff recruitment of new starters. Less than one in four organisations currently utilise apprentices and that only a handful planned to recruit apprentices over the next 12 months.  

A lack of awareness was cited as the main reason why employers appear reluctant to take on apprentices.

Only 40% of respondents said that they fully understood what apprenticeships are and the value they can bring to policing organisations, suggesting there is work to be done in terms of employer engagement and apprenticeship career pathways. 

The findings come just days after reports by the Police Foundation and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary warned the sector is facing significant workplace issues.

And Police Oracle warned last week that thousands of Uplift recruits have quit.

A member of the Skills for Justice team, former College of Policing Chief Executive Mike Cunningham, said supporting decision-makers across the ranks had to be a priority. 

He said: “Whilst it is almost cliché to say that people are the most valuable resource in policing, it is irrefutably true. That being so, we need to be bold in our approach to the selection and the development of policing leaders at all levels. 

“The survey demonstrates a welcome step change in approach to employee wellbeing, however, concerns remain regarding the seriousness with which allegations of bullying or harassment are treated indicating that the ongoing development of officers and staff in policing is a long way from where it needs to be and there is much more to do.”

But there was some good news from the findings. Forces have embraced home working during lockdown and employees say they have benefitted as a result.

The survey found 76% of employers offer flexible working - a move which has been positively received by workers, who overwhelmingly felt that they were more productive and have a better work-life balance as a result. 

The survey was released at the same time as Police Scotland’s Chief Constable said the reforms carried out to merge and modernise his force had worked.

He warned policing needs to change its cultural attitudes.

CC Iain Livingstone said other forces could learn from the process: “There is a moral imperative and operational necessity for policing to lead change to improve the experiences of all our communities, including our own officers and staff. Words and good intent are not enough. There must be action; practical, firm, progressive, visible action.”

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