More City of Edmonton employees feel harassed, discriminated against; citizens increasingly part of problem: report

Click to play video: 'New report suggests more City of Edmonton employees feel harassed on job'
New report suggests more City of Edmonton employees feel harassed on job
WATCH ABOVE: It's not the results the City of Edmonton was hoping for. As Vinesh Pratap reports, the results of a new survey suggest harassment in the workplace is on the rise for city employees – Jan 24, 2019

A growing number of people employed by the City of Edmonton say they face harassment or experience discrimination on the job, and abuse from members of the public is a growing source of that aggravation, according to a City of Edmonton executive report released on Thursday.

The 2018 City of Edmonton Employee Engagement and Diversity Survey collected responses from 8,732 city employees related to engagement, workplace culture, diversity, discrimination and harassment. The report was compiled by TalentMap, an Ottawa-based human resource firm.

READ MORE: 1 in 5 City of Edmonton employees say they’ve been harassed on the job

Watch below: (From Nov. 16, 2017) They are hired to serve the taxpayer, but are they happy at their work? The satisfaction of City of Edmonton employees is under the microscope with a recent survey that shows some experience a workplace culture of harassment and bullying. Vinesh Pratap reports.

Click to play video: 'City of Edmonton employee survey finds harassment, bullying in the workplace'
City of Edmonton employee survey finds harassment, bullying in the workplace

New numbers reveal changing sources of harassment

According to the 2018 survey results, 23.8 per cent of respondents reported the perception that they had been harassed at work, up from 19 per cent in 2016 and 17.6 per cent in 2014.

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In 2016, councillors on the city’s audit committee expressed surprise and concern about the results and committed to working to address the issue.

READ MORE: City of Edmonton employees hold candlelight vigil to highlight workplace harassment

Watch below: (From Nov. 17, 2018) Employees with the City of Edmonton are hoping a candlelight vigil in Churchill Square Saturday evening will continue a conversation about harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Julia Wong reports.

Click to play video: 'City of Edmonton employees hold candlelight vigil'
City of Edmonton employees hold candlelight vigil

The authors of Thursday’s report define harassment as “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 bullies, demeans, belittles or causes personal humiliation or embarrassment, and any act of intimidation or threat,” the report says.

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The number of respondents who reported witnessing harassment or discrimination in the workplace also surged in 2018: 25.6 per cent of respondents said they saw such incidents take place, up from 20.2 per cent in 2016 and 23.4 per cent in 2014.

The review breaks down harassment into various categories. The predominant form of harassment reported was termed “personal harassment” and accounted for 74.9 per cent of the harassment perceived by respondents. The second-most common type of harassment was framed as “abuse of authority” at 51.8 per cent, while sexual harassment accounted for 8.7 per cent. The breakdown of the varieties of harassment was similar to the harassment described by respondents in reports from 2016 and 2014.

The most common source of harassment identified by respondents was other co-workers, which made up 35.7 percent of perceived harassment reported in the survey. Immediate supervisors followed at 29.8 per cent. However, co-workers and immediate supervisors accounted for a higher share of reported sources of harassment in 2016 and 2014. The source of harassment that surged in 2018, in terms of its share, was members of the public.


More City of Edmonton employees reported feeling perceived discrimination at work in 2018. The survey shows 14 per cent of respondents felt they have been discriminated against, up from 11.4 per cent in 2016 but down from 16.2 in 2014.

“Discrimination means treating people negatively, adversely or not fairly based on the categories in Alberta Human Rights protected grounds,” the report says.

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“This treatment can be public or done quietly through actions, works, pictures or written material.”

The most common form of discrimination identified in the report was based on race at 34.4 per cent. That’s up from 32.5 per cent in 2016 and 25.1 per cent in 2014. The next most common instances of discrimination centred around gender and age, although their share of the various forms of discrimination reported decreased compared to 2016. Discrimination based on place of origin saw the biggest spike, up from 16.7 per cent in 2016 to 18.9 per cent in 2018.

In a table breaking down the perceived sources of discrimination, the report finds the most common root of the problem is from other co-workers who work in the same unit at 40.1 per cent. The second-most common source was immediate supervisors at 29.8 per cent. However, the share occupied by those two sources decreased from 2016. The sources that saw the biggest increase from 2016 to 2018 were “other” and members of the public.

Who is being harassed?

The audit explored who was feeling harassed by breaking employees down into various categories. In terms of various age groups, all groups reported an increase in perceived harrassment since 2016. But one group, those in the 45-54 age category, reported the biggest increase. Nearly 27 per cent of respondents in that age group reported feeling harassed, up from 18.8 per cent in 2016.

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The other groups that saw the most notable uptick in perceived harassment were respondents who identified as being Indigenous or as having a disability.

In terms of workplace status, the respondents who saw the most notable increase in perceived harassment were managers and employees who have been working with the city for 20 years or more.

When looking at the field of work that saw the highest frequency of perceptions of harassment in 2018, it was employees who work in maintenance and equipment operation trades. The field of work that saw the lowest incidence of perceived harassment was front-line public protection services.

READ MORE: $1.6M for private eyes to probe government harassment complaints

Who is being discriminated against?

In terms of various age groups, all groups reported an increased in perceived discrimination since 2016. But again, as is the case with perceived harassment, those in the 45-54 age category saw the sharpest increase in perceived discrimination. However, the demographic that saw the biggest spike in terms of perceived discrimination was employees who identifiy as Indigenous, up from 18.8 per cent in 2016 to 24 per cent in 2018.

The field of work that saw the highest incidence of perceived discrimination was those working in professional occupations in educations services. Those in senior and middle management occupations saw the lowest frequency of perceptions of discrimination.

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Reporting of harassment or discrimination

While the new report suggests a marked increase in the number of city employees who say they have witnessed harassment or discrimination at the workplace, a growing number of employees appear to be taking action and reporting the abuse. The survey shows 43 per cent of those who saw such instances reported the matter to someone who could do something about it, up from 36.2 per cent in 2016, although still down from 43.9 per cent in 2014.

Still, the report found employees aren’t necessarily seeing more action being taken. The survey found 37 per cent of respondents said they witnessed a response or change to address the situation once it was reported, down from 40.5 per cent in 2016, but up from 27.3 per cent in 2014.

City response to report

Following the release of the employee survey results, the City of Edmonton announced a new “workforce initiative” to address “diversity, identifying mental health issues and providing supports to those in need, eliminating harassment and discrimination and managing change.”

“We want our staff to be trained, productive and happy on their first day, their last day and every day in between,” city manager Linda Cochrane said in a news release about the This is How We Work initiative.

“Our teams include accountants, bridge workers, cartographers, DATS dispatchers … vehicle technicians, web writers, yard leaders and zoo attendants working in 73 different lines of business,” she said. “Our approaches need to reflect the diversity of workplaces and the individual people in them.”

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Cochrane also noted the city faces similar workforce issues as other large employers.

The city said it has taken steps to address issues in the workplace, including creating an employee services department and rethinking how it deals with allegations of harassment or discrimination.

“Upcoming initiatives include a workplace mental health program called The Working Mind, and services to rebuild team relationships after a serious incident,” a city news release said. “A series of staff town hall meetings will provide employees the opportunity to flag the issues that mean most to them, while new plans for employee engagement will be developed in each of the city’s 35 branches.”

A safe-disclosure office is scheduled to open on Monday which is aimed at providing city employees with a way to confidentially report their concerns.

“We’re going to hold people accountable but we’re also going to support them,” Cocharane said.

“The message will be, ‘We’ll support you but we’ll hold you accountable for creating the atmosphere and the climate that allows a good workplace to flourish.'”

City of Edmonton manager Linda Cochrane speaks to reporters on Jan. 24, 2019. Global News

Mayor Don Iveson said he wants to hear more from the city’s senior managers going forward on their progress with regard to harassment and discrimination concerns in the workplace.

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“We hold the city manager to a very high standard with respect to ensuring that all the people who come to work here at the City of Edmonton have a safe and productive environment to serve Edmontonians,” Iveson said.

About 14,000 people work for the City of Edmonton.

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