Gary Burgess: The Catch-22 of bullying in Jersey’s government

For the past few weeks Gary Burgess has been speaking to victims of bullying in Jersey’s public sector. Credit: Government of Jersey

For the past few weeks I’ve been speaking to victims of bullying in Jersey’s public sector.

The majority are current employees, some are former employees, all are scarred by their experiences of working for the Government of Jersey.

As one senior civil servant told me: "The culture of leadership is very much to lead by fear and intimidation and by bullying colleagues. I've worked there for many years and I've never known it as bad as it is now."

I’ve heard stories of people feeling sick at the prospect of going to work, of going home crying, of being under the care of psychiatrists.

When I asked those who haven’t blown the whistle on this behaviour why, their answer is alarming.

Time after time, they told me of incidents of the victim being moved to another job within government when they raise the alarm, while the bully keeps their job or, in a number of instances, gets promoted. The issue therefore simply isn’t dealt with.

All this comes as a new independent report into the culture of bullying in Jersey’s government is published highlighting examples of public arguments, insults being hurled, aggressive behaviour and belittling of staff.

But there’s a problem. The very victims of bullying have told me meetings where they were encouraged to open up about their experiences were in some cases attended by their bullies. They, of course, didn’t feel able to speak up.

I am now in a similar position of not being able to fully report their allegations.

They have shared with me *very* specific details and names of individuals. Indeed, some of the same names kept cropping up again and again. They are senior figures.

However, to report those names or details of the incidents, including sexualised and racial bullying, would be to risk revealing the identities of the victims. Catch-22 in action.

Some more choice quotes for you to consider:

"Managers bully staff. Staff are addressed in a demeaning manner.""If someone speaks out they are victimised.""Bullying is absolutely rife in government and that permeates down from the very top.""I wake up dreading going into work to face those people.""This toxic, poisonous behaviour has got to stop. The perpetrators have not only not been dealt with, they've been promoted since.""It's known so well who those bullies are at the top of government. It's a known secret but nothing is done about it.”

The people I’ve spoken to span a number of government departments.

In one case a whole collective of workers sent me a six-page hand-written letter to express their anger at their situation.

In the meantime, ministers have their updated independent report about bullying so they can show things are improving, they can also cite the past year as one where the whole workforce was stretched and stressed beyond imagination due to the pandemic.

But that will ring hollow for those on the receiving end of bullying behaviour before, during and after the pandemic.

For now, Catch-22 lives on.