UK Space Agency commissions review after one in five staff report being bullied or harassed

Agency says formal complaints are low compared to the numbers in the 2021 Civil Service People Survey
Space Agency staff have reported high levels of bullying, harassment and discrimination. Photo: Adobe Stock

By Tevye Markson

01 Aug 2022

The UK Space Agency has hired a dispute-resolution company to investigate why so many of its staff have experienced bullying, harassment and discrimination.

Conflict Management Plus will try to determine why nearly one in five space agency staff said they had been a victim of bullying or harassment last year, and nearly one in six said they had experienced discrimination, CSW can reveal. Of the 101 government departments and agencies whose officials responded to the 2021 Civil Service People Survey, UKSA had the highest proportion of employees who said they had been bullied or harassed in the workplace.

The proportion of space agency staff who reported experiencing discrimination rose from 16% in 2020 to 19% last year, and those reporting discrimination rose from 12% to 15%.

The executive agency, which is part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, has signed up Conflict Management Plus to “assess the issues around BHD and inappropriate behaviour in the UK Space Agency”.

CMP is working with UKSA on a review which will “explore the underlying causes of the feedback provided through the Civil Service People Survey”, a spokesperson for the agency told CSW.

“This will help us to establish exactly what form the perceived BHD is taking, gain a deeper understanding of how pervasive it is in the organisation and develop a set of recommended actions that can be taken to remedy the situation once those issues are identified,” they said.

Senior leaders at the agency decided the review would be independent and confidential to encourage high levels of participation and increase confidence in the review's results, the spokesperson added.

The space agency is paying CMP Solutions £55,000 for the three-month review, which started in June.

The space agency said it procured CMP’s services after conducting initial engagement across the organisation to understand the reasons for the 2021 survey results.

The contract was awarded without competition. This was due to the pressing need to understand and address the issues highlighted in the survey, the agency said.

In its 2021-22 annual report, the agency said very few staff had used formal grievance procedures to raise these concerns in comparison to the high levels reported in the survey and committed to investigate why this is the case.

However, the people survey showed officials in the agency were more willing to report incidents of bullying and harassment than in most organisations: 52% of staff said they had reported incidents when they occurred, compared to the civil service average of 38%.

UKSA said it had already taken several “considered steps” to reduce bullying, harassment and discrimination in the workplace before hiring CMP, including:

  • Dignity and respect at work training for line managers
  • Regular pulse surveys to gauge the sentiments of staff and address concerns
  • A respect at work action group is working collaboratively with the HR team to deliver activities aimed at creating a positive work culture and “making the agency a great place to work”

The agency's chief executive, Dr Paul Bate, told CSW in May that staff across the organisation deserved “so much better” than the environment the results in the survey suggested and that support had been put in place to help anyone bullied, harassed or discriminated against, and to encourage all staff to speak up.

“There is much to do, and I am very thankful to every member of staff for being willing to be part of changing our agency for the better,” he said.

“The first priority of every leader in the space agency is to create a safe and inclusive environment.”

The space agency is not the first department or government agency to appoint CMP to help with cultural issues.

The Cabinet Office hired the company in March to investigate a bullying case, while the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport signed up the firm in November to conduct an independent organisational review. The Crown Commercial Service and Ministry of Defence have also recruited the company's services.

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