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2011 Public Service Employee Survey
Focus on Harassment

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The 2011 Public Service Employee Survey (PSES) See footnote 1 provided federal public servants an opportunity to express their views on various aspects of their work and work environment, including harassment.

The new Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution, which took effect in October 2012, promotes a respectful workplace for all federal employees through the prevention and early resolution of harassment.

The analyses presented in this report aim to advance our understanding of harassment in the public service, including the potential relationships between harassment and employee perceptions and engagement. Although these relationships cannot be interpreted as ones of cause and effect, information about them can guide organizations in developing strategies to reduce the level of perceived harassment in the workplace.

The 2011 PSES contained the following questions related to harassment that were used for the purpose of this analysis:

Q59: After having read the definition of harassment, See footnote 2 in the past two years, have you been the victim of harassment on the job?

  • 29% of employees indicated having been a victim of harassment on the job in the past two years (17% once or twice, 12% more than twice), and 71% indicated never having been harassed during that time period.  These results reflect employees’ perceptions and do not necessarily represent founded harassment complaints. Since the previous survey, conducted in 2008, the rate of perceived harassment in the public service has remained unchanged, which implies that additional effort may be required to prevent harassment in the workplace.

Q60: From whom did you experience harassment on the job?

  • When asked to indicate the source of harassment, See footnote 3 67% of employees who had experienced harassment on the job in the past two years cited individuals with authority over them, 63% co-workers, 23% members of the public, 14% individuals working for them, 13% individuals from other departments or agencies, and 8% individuals for whom they have a custodial responsibility. Figure 1 shows the results by source of harassment. Interestingly, although the harassment rates for the public service as a whole have not changed since 2008, almost all sources of harassment were cited less frequently in 2011 than in 2008.

Figure 1: 2011 Public Service Employee Survey - Sources of Harassment

Figure 1 illustrates the proportion of employees who indicated that they had been harassed "once or twice" or "more than twice" by the following groups of people.

Figure 1: 2011 Public Service Employee Survey - Sources of Harassment - Text versions


Q61: My department or agency works hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment.

  • 72% of employees agreed that their organization works hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment; 12% disagreed and 17% neither agreed nor disagreed. See footnote 4

Q70: I am satisfied with the way in which my department or agency responds to matters related to harassment and discrimination.

  • 61% of employees agreed that they are satisfied with the way in which their organizationresponds to matters related to harassment and discrimination; 15% disagreed, and 25% neither agreed nor disagreed.

Q71: I am satisfied with the way in which my work unit responds to matters related to harassment and discrimination.

  • 63% of employees agreed that they are satisfied with the way in which their work unit responds to matters related to harassment and discrimination; 14% disagreed, and 23% neither agreed nor disagreed.

Key Demographic Observations

Occupation

Employees in different occupational categoriesSee footnote 5 reported varying levels of harassment. Employees in the Operational category were the most likely to report harassment, with 39% indicating that they had been harassed at work in the past two years (Q59). Only 17% of employees in the Executive category reported that they had been harassed on the job in the past two years. Not surprisingly, employees in the Executive category were more likely than employees in other occupational categories to agree that their organization works hard to prevent harassment (Q61) and to express satisfaction with the way in which their organization (Q70) and their work unit (Q71) respond to matters related to harassment and discrimination. Employees in the Operational category were the least likely to agree with these statements (Figure 2).

Figure 2: 2011 Public Service Employee Survey- Harassment by Occupational Category

Figure 2 illustrates the proportion of employees in each occupational category who responded that they had been the victim of harassment on the job in the past two years and who responded affirmatively to the survey questions related to harassment.

Figure 2: 2011 Public Service Employee Survey - Harassment by Occupational Category - Text versions

The most commonly cited sources of harassment for employees in all five occupational categories were individuals with authority over them, co-workers and members of the public. For both the Operational and the Administrative Support categories, co-workers came first, followed by individuals with authority over them.

Official Languages

Employees whose first official language is English were more likely to report having been a victim of harassment on the job in the past two years than employees whose first official language is French (30% vs. 26%, Q59). Employees whose first official language is French were more likely to agree that...

  • Their organization works hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment (75% vs. 70%, Q61).
  • They are satisfied with the way in which their organization responds to matters related to harassment and discrimination (66% vs. 58%, Q70).
  • They are satisfied with the way in which their work unit responds to matters related to harassment and discrimination (67% vs. 62%, Q71).

Employment Equity Groups

Members of the four employment equity groups – persons with disabilities, Aboriginal people, visible minorities, and women – were more likely than other employees to indicate having been a victim of harassment at work in the past two years. Survey results indicate that the harassment rates for the four designated groups did not change between 2008 and 2011. As was the case for public service employees overall, the most frequently cited source of harassment by all four groups was “individuals with authority over me,” followed by co-workers and members of the public.

Persons with Disabilities

Among the four designated groups, the most striking results were those for persons with disabilities. Nearly half (49%) of all persons with disabilities indicated having been a victim of harassment at work in the past two years, compared with 28% of other employees. Persons with disabilities were also less inclined than other employees to express positive opinions regarding their organization’s efforts to deal with harassment. They were less likely to agree that...

  • Their organization works hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment (60% vs. 72%, Q61).
  • They are satisfied with the way in which their organization responds to matters related to harassment and discrimination (48% vs. 62%, Q70).
  • They are satisfied with the way in which their work unit responds to matters related to harassment and discrimination (51% vs. 64%, Q71).

Aboriginal People

A larger proportion of Aboriginals than non-Aboriginals indicated that they had been a victim of harassment at work in the past two years (42% vs. 28%, Q59). In addition, relatively fewer Aboriginal employees than non-Aboriginal employees agreed that...

  • Their organization works hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment (65% vs. 72%, Q61).
  • They are satisfied with the way in which their organization responds to matters related to harassment and discrimination (55% vs. 61%, Q70).
  • They are satisfied with the way in which their work unit responds to matters related to harassment and discrimination (58% vs. 64%, Q71).

Visible Minorities

A slightly larger proportion of visible minorities than other employees indicated that they had been a victim of harassment at work in the last two years (31% vs. 28%, Q59). Differences between visible minorities and other employees were marginal for the responses to questions dealing with their organization’s efforts to prevent harassment (Q61) and their organization’s (Q70) and their work unit’s (Q71) responses to matters related to harassment and discrimination.

Women

A larger proportion of women than men reported having been harassed at work in the last two years (31% vs. 25%, Q59). Interestingly, similar proportions of women and men agreed that their organization works hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment (Q61) and said that they were satisfied with the way in which their organization (Q70) and their work unit (Q71) respond to matters related to harassment and discrimination.

Link Between Harassment and Discrimination

Survey results show that perceptions of harassment and discrimination in the workplace are intimately tied. More than one third (35%) of employees who reported that they had experienced harassment on the job in the past two years also reported having experienced discrimination. In comparison, only 6% of employees who had not been harassed indicated having been discriminated against.

A high proportion of employees who said that they had experienced discrimination on the job in the past two years said that they had also been harassed (71%). In comparison, 22% of employees who said that they had not been discriminated against on the job reported having been harassed.

Link Between Harassment and Negative Perceptions of the Workplace

Employees who had experienced harassment at work in the past two years responded consistently more negatively to other survey questions than did employees who had not been harassed. Survey results suggest that harassment is strongly associated with employees' perceptions of their workplace, particularly perceptions of their organization's efforts to prevent or deal with harassment, and their perceptions of values and ethics, leadership, staffing and career development, support, innovation, and recognition.

Harassment Prevention and Response

The incidence of harassment seems to be linked to employees' perceptions of what is being done to prevent or deal with harassment in the workplace. Employees who had been harassed on the job in the past two years were less likely than those who had not to agree that...

  • Their organization works hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment (48% vs. 82%, Q61).
  • They are satisfied with the way in which their organization responds to matters related to harassment and discrimination (39% vs. 71%, Q70).
  • They are satisfied with the way in which their work unit responds to matters related to harassment and discrimination (41% vs. 74%, Q71).

On the contrary, employees who stated that their organization works hard to prevent harassment (Q61) were far less likely than those who did not to report having been a victim of harassment in the past two years (20% vs. 78%). Lower levels of harassment were also observed among employees who were satisfied with the way in which their organization (Q70) and their work unit (Q71) respond to matters related to harassment and discrimination than among those who were not (21% vs. 74%, Q70; 21% vs. 78%, Q71). These results suggest that efforts by organizations to prevent and deal with harassment may help reduce the level of perceived harassment in the workplace.

Harassed employees also tended to express more negative views of conflict resolution, whether it is formal or informal. For instance, employees who had been harassed were less likely than those who had not to indicate that...

  • They are satisfied with the way in which informal complaints on workplace issues are resolved in their work unit (35% vs. 63%, Q26).
  • They feel they can initiate a formal recourse process (grievance, complaint, appeal, etc.) without fear of reprisal (25% vs. 52%, Q43).

Values and Ethics

Strong values and ethics, such as respect, are essential to creating a harassment-free workplace. Survey results show that harassment and employees' opinions of values and ethics in the workplace are closely related. For example, employees who reported being a victim of harassment on the job in the past two years were less inclined than those who did not to say that...

  • In their work unit, every individual, regardless of race, colour, gender or disability would be / is accepted as an equal member of the team (74% vs. 93%, Q27).
  • Senior managers in their organization lead by example in ethical behaviour (40% vs. 65%, Q42).
  • Their organization respects individual differences (55% vs. 79%, Q48).
  • Overall, their organization treats them with respect (58% vs. 84%, Q49).
  • Their immediate supervisor understands and respects the provisions of their collective agreement (66% vs. 84%, Q64).
  • Senior managers respect the provisions of their collective agreement (56% vs. 77%, Q65).

Organizations' efforts to enhance values and ethics may also foster lower levels of harassment in the workplace. For instance, employees who said that their organization treats them with respect (Q49) were less likely than those who did not to report having been a victim of harassment on the job (22% vs. 64%). Similarly, employees who said that every individual in their work unit is accepted as an equal member of the team (Q27) were less inclined than those who did not to say that they had been harassed (24% vs. 72%).

Leadership

One challenge area highlighted by the 2011 PSES results is employees' opinions of leadership, especially senior management. Results show that this challenge is especially real for employees who are victims of harassment.

For instance, employees who indicated that they had been harassed at work in the past two years were much less likely to say that...

  • They have confidence in the senior management of their organization (35% vs. 59%, Q44).
  • Senior management in their organization makes effective and timely decisions (32% vs. 50%, Q45).
  • Senior management will try to resolve concerns raised in this survey (32% vs. 53%, Q46).
  • Essential information flows effectively from senior management to staff (34% vs. 53%, Q47).

Similar results were observed in terms of employees' opinions of their immediate supervisor. Employees who had experienced harassment were less likely than those who had not to indicate that...

  • They receive useful feedback from their immediate supervisor on their job performance (56% vs. 76%, Q30).
  • They can count on their immediate supervisor to keep his or her promises (57% vs. 81%, Q31).
  • Their immediate supervisor keeps them informed about the issues affecting their work (58% vs. 79%, Q32).
  • Their immediate supervisor assesses their work against identified goals and objectives (62% vs. 81%, Q34).

Survey results suggest that improving leadership and supervisory behaviour may help reduce the incidence of harassment. For example, employees who indicated that they have confidence in the senior management of their organization (Q44) were half as likely as those who did not to say that they had been a victim of harassment at work in the past two years (20% vs. 46%).

Staffing and Career Development

Employees who have experienced harassment tend to have more negative views about staffing and career development than those who have not. For example, employees who indicated that they had been harassed were less likely than those who did not to believe that...

  • Their organization does a good job of supporting employee career development (40% vs. 62%, Q22).
  • In their work unit, they hire people who can do the job (50% vs. 71%, Q35).
  • In their work unit, the process of selecting a person for a position is done fairly (40% vs. 65%, Q36).

Support

Employees who said that they had been harassed at work in the past two years are less inclined to feel supported in different areas of their work. For instance, employees who indicated that they had experienced harassment were less likely than those who did not to agree that...

  • They have support at work to balance their work and personal life (60% vs. 81%, Q5).
  • They have support at work to provide a high level of service (60% vs. 81%, Q28).

Innovation

Survey results suggest that innovation may be hampered by harassment. Employees who said that they had been harassed at work in the past two years were less inclined than those who did not to report that...

  • They have the opportunities they need to implement ideas on how to improve their work (46% vs. 68%, Q12).
  • They have opportunities to provide input into decisions that affect their work (53% vs. 74%, Q15).
  • They are encouraged to be innovative or take initiative in their work (41% vs. 62%, Q16).

Recognition

Results show that employees who are harassed are less likely that those who are not to feel that they receive meaningful recognition for their work. Among employees who were harassed, only 42% felt that they receive meaningful recognition for work well done (Q9). In contrast, two thirds (66%) of those who were not harassed agreed with this statement.

Harassment and Employee Engagement

Employees' satisfaction with their job and with their organization, as well as their commitment to their organization, are key components of employee engagement. Employees who had been harassed at work tended to report lower levels of engagement than employees who had not. For example, employees who had been harassed were less likely than those who had not to agree that...

  • Overall, they like their job (73% vs. 86%, Q7).
  • They get a sense of satisfaction from their work (65% vs. 80%, Q8).
  • They would recommend their organization as a great place to work (47% vs. 71%, Q51).
  • They are satisfied with their organization (48% vs. 72%, Q52).
  • They would prefer to remain with their organization, even if a comparable job was available elsewhere in the federal public service (43% vs. 65%, Q53).

Negative Effect of Harassment by a Superior

Regardless of who perpetrates it, harassment appears to foster negative perceptions of the workplace among employees who are on the receiving end. However, analysis of the sources of harassment suggests that harassment by a superior may have the greatest effect on employee perceptions. In fact, employees who said they had been harassed at work in the past two years by an individual with authority over them tended to view their work and their workplace the least favourably and to express lower levels of satisfaction and commitment.

For example, victims of harassment who said they had been harassed by individuals with authority over them were less likely than those who indicated a different perpetrator of the harassment, to feel that...

  • They can count on their immediate supervisor to keep his or her promises (49% vs. 73%, Q31).
  • Senior managers in their organization lead by example in ethical behaviour (31% vs. 56%, Q42).
  • Overall, their organization treats them with respect (48% vs. 76%, Q49).
  • They are satisfied with their organization (40% vs. 63%, Q52).
  • They would prefer to remain with their organization, even if a comparable job was available elsewhere in the federal public service (37% vs. 56%, Q53).

Summary

The 2011 PSES results show that almost one in three employees in the public service perceives having been a victim of harassment on the job in the last two years. That rate has remained unchanged since 2008. Harassment levels vary according to demographic group, with employees in the Operational category, persons with disabilities and Aboriginal people reporting the highest levels of harassment.

Analysis of the results also highlights the relationship between harassment and employee perceptions and engagement. Victims of harassment tend to express more negative opinions of their work and workplace, particularly with regard to harassment prevention and response, values and ethics, and leadership. Victims of harassment also tend to report lower levels of satisfaction and commitment in relation to their work and their organization.

These findings suggest that harassment remains a long-term challenge for the public service and that efforts to prevent and deal with harassment must be strengthened. Improving leadership and enhancing values and ethics could also help reduce the incidence of harassment in the workplace. Furthermore, the new Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution provides strong support for federal organizations and their employees to build a harassment-free workplace.

Appendix A

Definition of Harassment in 2011 PSES

Harassment is any improper conduct by an individual that is directed at and offensive to another person or persons in the workplace and that the individual knew or ought reasonably to have known would cause offence or harm. It comprises any objectionable act, comment or display that demeans, belittles, or causes personal humiliation or embarrassment, and any act of intimidation or threat. It includes harassment within the meaning of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Appendix B

Occupational Categories and Groups
Category Groups

Executive

EX, EC(CRA), DM

Scientific and Professional

AC, AG, AR, AU, BI, CH, DE, DS, EC, ED, EN, ES, FO, HR, LA, LS,
MA, MD, MT, ND, NU, OP, PC, PH, PS, RCO, SE, SG, SI, SW, UT, VM

Administrative and Foreign Service

AS, CO, CS, FI, FS, HR(CRA), IS, OM, PE, PG, PL, PM, TR, WP

Technical

AI, AO, DD, EG, EL, EU, GT, PI, PY, RO, SO, TI

Administrative Support

AD, CM, CR, DA, ST

Operational

CX, FB, FR, GL, GS, HP, HS, LI, PR, SC, SR

Other

AB, CIASC, CIPTC, CISPC, FT, GA, IM, IN, MDMDG, MG, MG(CRA), MG(NRC), NB, OC, RE, RL, SP, STDNT, TC, TO, UNI

Note: There is currently no official or accepted definition of the occupational categories. The categories are based on the classification presented in the 2009-10 annual report to Parliament on employment equity in the public service, and tailored, notably to include occupational groups specific to certain separate agencies. We therefore advise caution when interpreting the results.


Footnotes

Return to footnote reference [1] View additional information on the 2011 Public Service Employee Survey.

Return to footnote reference [2] See Appendix A for the definition of harassment that appeared in the survey.

Return to footnote reference [3] Employees could select more than one source.

Return to footnote reference [4]. Most questions used a five-point response scale. Unless stated otherwise, the percentages presented in this report reflect the two most positive response categories combined (e.g., “Strongly agree” and “Somewhat agree”) or the two most negative response categories combined (e.g., “Strongly disagree” and “Somewhat disagree”). The “Don’t know” and “Not applicable” responses are excluded.

Return to footnote reference [5] Please refer to Appendix B for a list of occupational groups within each occupational category.

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