Senior government comms operative speaks out on bullying and nepotism

The nature of the small and specialised comms community makes it a potential breeding ground for the abuse of staff, according to a senior government communicator who claims to have suffered and witnessed unacceptable behaviour.

Asif Siddiquee says he has experienced or witnessed bullying, harassment and nepotism in government comms
Asif Siddiquee says he has experienced or witnessed bullying, harassment and nepotism in government comms

Asif Siddiquee, head of strategic comms at the Judicial Office, said: "The communications community is specialised, unique and small; and unfortunately, this very environment can sometimes lead to bullying, harassment, and nepotism."

Writing in a blog published on the Government Communication Service (GCS) website, he added: "These are all things I have experienced or witnessed over the last few years."

Drawing a line in the sand

Comms professionals need to stand up to bullies in the workplace, Siddiquee argued.

"It is important that we not only feel confident enough to challenge these behaviours but understand that there are avenues and networks to support you where you feel the Civil Service code is not being adhered to," he said.

Siddiquee's comments come just months after the Cabinet Office published a review of bullying, harassment and misconduct in the Civil Service.

Wider problem

This found that 73 per cent of respondents to a survey of almost 19,000 civil servants, conducted for the review, had been bullied or harassed during their time in the Civil Service.

"Tackling bullying, harassment and discrimination must have a much higher profile, with people able to see strongly communicated expectations about what behaviour is expected as the 'norm' in their organisation," the review, published last September, stated.

"For employees to have confidence, departments will need to communicate clearly and effectively about what they are doing, what they expect to change as a result and what progress has been made," it added.

At the Cabinet Office, of which the GCS is part, 13 per cent of staff have been bullied or harassed at work within the past year, according to the 2018 Civil Service People Survey.

This was up from 12 per cent in 2017 and higher than the Civil Service average of 11 per cent.

Crack down

The GCS needs to do further work in tackling bullying, discrimination and harassment, according to the organisation’s diversity and inclusion strategy.

It describes how the GCS aims to "create an open, respectful working environment where concerns of bullying or discrimination can be safely raised and dealt with by… all managers taking seriously allegations of inappropriate language, situations or practices."

In 2017, the then-Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service, the late Sir Jeremy Heywood, commissioned the Sue Owen Report to look at issues of bullying and harassment in detail. The Civil Service has since strengthened reporting processes for staff, as well as its investigation procedures.

GCS was contacted for comment, but had not responded to the request at the time of publication.

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