A case of widespread workplace bullying and harassment recently hit the media.

The Safe, Respectful and Inclusive Workplace Review (the Review), an independent review into workplace culture  at Chevron Australia found that:

  • Almost half of all employees (47%) had been bullied at work in the past 5 years
  • 30% experienced sexual harassment
  • Bystanders took no action because they feared reprisals
  • Employees were not confident to report this misconduct


Why didn’t Chevron’s employees speak up?

The Review found that the rates of reporting of inappropriate workplace behaviour at Chevron Australia are very low. Only a quarter of employees who had experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination reported it.  When it comes to sexual harassment, reporting rates are even lower.  Only 10% of employees who had experienced sexual harassment indicated that they had reported the most recent incident they had experienced. Additionally, most employees who had made a formal report indicated that they were dissatisfied with the complaint process.

We know from our consulting work, and from receiving thousands of whistleblowing disclosures, that there are two primary reasons why people don’t speak up and report misconduct at work:

  1. Fear of retribution – if I speak up, it will come at a professional or personal cost
  2. Fear of futility – the belief that it is not worth the risk of speaking up because nothing will change anyway

A ‘culture of fear’ was cited in the Chevron report, making clear that there is a lack of trust in management and safe systems to report misconduct.

How can leaders build better workplace cultures?

Organisations have a duty to provide a physically and mentally healthy workplace, free from harassment and discrimination. This is very difficult to achieve if employees don’t trust management and are fearful of speaking up. The role of leadership is critical.

Education, prevention and well-designed workplace complaints systems that are safe and easy to access and demonstrate responsive action can help to build a culture where people feel safe to speak up.

Steps that leaders can take include:

  • Active prevention – educating staff on expected behaviour and leading by example
  • Identify potential “hotspots” of risk and become more  aware of power dynamics that can make bullying & sexual harassment more likely
  • Ensure accountability at all levels of the organisation – ensuring that perpetrators are not protected and there are consequences for unacceptable behaviour, regardless of their role in the organisation
  • Have in place a robust, confidential and independent speak up channel that allows victim-survivors, witnesses and bystanders to report concerns
  • Be transparent about how the reporting process works, making it explicit that people who raise concerns will be not suffer retaliation and their identity will not be shared without consent
  • Ensure complaints are investigated in a timely manner and findings used to improve processes
  • Implement centralised reporting so that patterns of poor conduct can be identified and mitigated with targeted controls
  • Ensure that the Board is kept aware of emerging themes and trends so that proactive steps can be taken as part of good corporate governance to address cultural shortcomings and create a safe and inclusive workplace


How can Your Call and Rely help?

Your Call and Rely offer complementary internal and external channels to help employees report poor conduct to leaders. We also advise leading organisations on how to build safer, more respectful and inclusive, listen up, speak up cultures.

Talk to Your Call’s Senior Advisor, Kirsty Harvison, about how to create a safe, inclusive and respectful culture where employees feel safe to speak up and leader’s are well-informed about conduct and culture risks.

Additional resources

  • Book a demo to see how Rely can help you prevent, detect and respond to conduct and culture issues at work.
  • Download Rely’s Psychological Safety Guide, co-authored by Kirsty Harvison and Dr Jane Burns
  • Watch our webinar on Respect at Work – a positive duty for employers