Director Statement on Assessment Report Regarding Workplace
OTTAWA, October 25, 2017 - The Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), David Vigneault, released the following statement today regarding the public release of an internal report on the CSIS Toronto regional office workplace:
“As a result of a harassment investigation and its findings in our Toronto Region office, CSIS engaged the services of an independent third party to undertake a climate review of the CSIS regional office in Toronto. This review involved consultations and voluntary interviews of regional employees in Toronto in an effort to obtain feedback and better identify, understand and address issues of concern.
The consultation with employees took place from April to June 2017 and raised a number of historical and current perceptions related to leadership, accountability, and communication in the workplace. The Workplace Climate Assessment (WCA), Executive Summary, which I have attached in full, with redactions primarily to protect privacy, highlights serious concerns surrounding retribution, favouritism, bullying and other inappropriate behaviour that is categorically unacceptable in a high-functioning, professional organization.
While the report highlights a number of positive changes over the last two years, including mandatory training for all employees and enhancements to Executive accountability, CSIS will continue to develop further courses of action to address issues raised in this review. Only by putting these kinds of issues on the table, and dealing with them directly, will the Service be able to continue to evolve as a strong, mission focused, and unified organization. While the assessment focused on one Region, I believe the information gathered from this process will be of benefit across the Service.
As I have stated previously, CSIS does not tolerate harassment, discrimination, or bullying under any circumstances. I strongly believe in leading an organization where every employee promotes a work environment which is free from harassment and conducive to the equitable treatment of all individuals. I am proud to work with such a group of dedicated employees and am steadfast in my commitment to address the concerns raised by my employees.
As the trust of Canadians is essential in order for CSIS to fulfill its mandate, I felt it was important to share this information with the public on the measures we are taking to improve as an organization.”
At the request of the Assistant Director Human Resources (ADH) and the Assistant Director Collection (ADC), a Workplace Climate Assessment was conducted in the Toronto Regional Office and Districts between April 18 and June 23, 2017. A Workplace Climate Assessment (WCA) Report was prepared in accordance to the mandate. This is an Executive Summary of this WCA Report.
Participants were asked to provide their perceptions and their views on what works well in their workplace and should be further promoted and what is problematic and should be corrected. They were asked about the general climate of their work environment and suggestions to improve the workplace.
A total of ***** employees and managers from various units and sections, or 30% of the Toronto Region Office and Districts, took part in the exercise. The consultant spoke with participants an average of 70 minutes. Although participants were encouraged to focus on the last two years, the impact of past managerial actions and climate were often raised.
A Workplace Climate Assessment is informal (not an investigation) and confidential. Its objective is to collect in a comprehensive manner, perceptions of staff about different key issues in the workplace and convey in a fair, objective and anonymous way how they are impacted by them. A climate assessment does not attempt to sort facts from perceptions and does not attempt to confirm whether examples or incidents referred to by individuals actually occurred as narrated – these were not confirmed. It should be noted that by its nature such a process might appear to bring out mostly the negative elements present in the workplace.
Summary of Findings
- All agree that this is a group of dedicated employees who believe in the mission of the organization and are fully engaged in their work. It is why they see meaning in coming to work in the morning, despite the heavy and negative atmosphere within.
- Low morale is pervasive and negativity is draining employees’ and managers’ energy. Most expect that management is not aware of how deep this discontent runs. Unfortunately, quite a few are considering leaving the organization disillusioned and disheartened, because of the work atmosphere and how decisions are made in the Toronto region. They also feel that with such low morale and disengagement, performance is affected. However, many feel things are moving in the right direction.
- Employees identified and commented on three distinct groups: Intelligence Officers (IO), non-IOs, and Managers, which they described as being disconnected. The IOs make up ***** of the population, ***** in comparison to the Service as a whole (a significant statistic for many). They are seen, and see themselves, as the heart of the organization. Non-IOs are seen and feel undervalued. Managers are seen as disconnected and feel their efforts to bring change in the region are not recognized.
- Mobility is becoming an acute problem. Employees who have spouses with valued careers feel penalized for not accepting to move in consideration of their family and spouses’ career aspirations, unlike in the past where it was assumed the spouse was mobile and not a significant breadwinner. Internal mobility is also an issue. Frequent rotation of positions does not allow people to get a good handle on the files and managers have no time to make their mark or recover from their mistakes.
- A majority of employees have confirmed their lack of trust in management and in most decision-making processes. Leadership skills are said to be wanting. A perceived aversion to risk and unclear accountabilities result in unaddressed problems and paralyzed decision-making. Fear of reprisal is very present and employees have provided concrete examples that support this belief.
- The culture of the organization is described as one where you are harshly blamed for mistakes and penalised; you do what you are told. Whereas people join an organization expecting a public service environment and culture, they are encountering a culture still permeated with its militaristic past, which continues to have a negative impact. It is said that Toronto is “the region progress forgot”. Many have also have mentioned the lack of diversity of the workforce as a concern.
- Many deplored the unprofessional behaviour, inappropriate comments and even bullying by colleagues and managers, which remained unchecked for years – and to some degree remain unacknowledged by management. This has had a lasting impact on the workplace climate. Although interpersonal relations are generally very good, a number of individuals feel they have been subjected to unwarranted and mean rumours and that they have been unfairly denigrated (often by managers), and that their reputation has been negatively affected.
- The past was referred to as the “old boys club” in almost every interview with people who have been in the region for over two years. They spoke of behaviours that included yelling, swearing, disrespectful, demeaning, misogynistic, offensive and inappropriate comments and jokes about employees from other employees but also from managers. This set the tone for conversations in the office.
- Employees feel that management did not show any accountability with regards to this past behaviour, and that they dismissed and minimized the issues. This has become an issue of trust and credibility for employees.
- Employees also witnessed regular weekly drinking of “the in-group” in the office or at the pub where decisions – often staffing decisions - were made. A strong perception of favouritism and of mistrust of administrative processes is now an important issue that will need to be overcome.
- Now however, the pendulum has swung the other way and some miss healthy socializing where they would get to know each other and managers on a personal level. In this regard, the social events, such as the annual gala, the summer BBQ were very much appreciated, as well as the work of the social committee.
- Although language in the workplace has become more civil and respectful than in the past, there are some pockets where jokes and discriminatory comments are still being made with regards to ethnicity and the communities being monitored. There is still some bias against women and a general lack of thoughtfulness towards cultural differences and sensitivities.
- The IOs are said to be (and acknowledge they are) competitive by nature and training, and forgetting to leave their trade at the door of the office, treating others as “sources” and not colleagues. Some groups are understaffed and due to the fear of reprisal no one says “no” to a request or task because of how it will be perceived by management. Employees are not empowered to speak up.
- Participants noted the insular nature of the organization and observed that this is the only one in which their kind of work can be done. This is why they stay. However, they feel that because management believes that it is an honour to work for this organization and because of its uniqueness, they can ask anything of its employees. As a result employees feel treated unfairly and abused. They feel no recognition for their work. They say many are disengaged and their mindset now is that this is “all pensionable time”.
- Because this work is seen as a life’s career limited to one organization, personal reputation is everything. There is fear of reprisal. Many examples were given of employees being black listed, being moved because of disagreements with management, or of mistakes not being forgiven. Some assignments, such as to a ***** or to screening, are seen as reprisal because they are not as valued roles and limit career opportunities.
- Whereas management appears to be more aware of mental health issues and workplace wellness, some employees seem to be still intolerant and judgmental towards their colleagues. Managers do nothing to stop the character assassination and back stabbing that occurs. Many were concerned with the number of employees who seem to be on leave of absence due (at least in part) to work related issues.
- Participants suggested that at the source of their poor perception of management and their distrust in leadership are 1) management’s inaction in the face of clearly inappropriate behaviour left unchecked for years; and 2) the lack of fair and impartial administrative processes, i.e. the arbitrariness of decisions and favouritism. It is perceived that managers lack respect and confidence in employees, as much as employees lack respect and trust in managers. This leads to micro-management and risk aversion in decision-making, as well as disengagement and cynicism in employees.
- Managers are not thought to be accountable in that they do not accept negative results as being valid or their fault. Performance or attendance problems are not dealt with. Instead, people are moved rather than issues addressed for fear of complaints or grievances. Some feel managers are not motivated to develop a relationship with their staff because they move too quickly; it is seen more a matter of putting in their time, and getting their promotions and bonuses.
- Decisions with regards to selection, assignments, course attendance and file assignment are said to be made arbitrarily without explanation. Rules are constantly changing with similar circumstances resulting in different outcomes.
- Employees feel that decisions are taken based on middle manager’s interpretation of what senior managers want and not on what subject matter experts propose. Employees’ suggestions are regularly turned down without explanation; this is therefore not perceived as a learning organization. Added to this environment is the new focus on statistics, which is taking over as a basis for decision-making - rather than the quality of the work.
- In the same vein, the hierarchy is said to be too heavy with unclear level 9 roles and responsibilities. Although they see themselves as desk experts, level 9 supervisors must deal with issues, including people management issues, in a front line role for which they are said to have no or little training. Employees complained of too many levels of decision-making, slowing down the work and producing decisions based sometimes on incomplete information.
- Many employees feel they have no power over their career. Conversations around career objectives and interests during the performance evaluation review (PER) exercise are never followed up. Decisions regarding advancement are solely based on relationships and not competencies or experience. Reputations and relationships are therefore everything, but at the same time very fragile.
- Many employees remarked that they did not feel valued and were very cynical of recognition awards. Management’s actions around these awards feed the perception that they do not believe in their value. Participants do not feel that this is a compassionate, caring organization; and whether an employee works at 200% or 10% makes no difference. Furthermore, it was pointed out also by IOs, that non-IO contributions to successful projects are usually forgotten in this recognition process.
- Regular town halls are well appreciated by most, but all other communication is said to be lacking from the top down and across. Many noted that senior managers never come out of their offices. Some do not acknowledge employees, even in the confines of the elevator. ***** it is difficult for them to understand why senior management would not get to know each one.
- The mobility and two-year rules are believed to be out dated and more in keeping with a militaristic culture. The requirement to move within, in or out of the region is believed to be arbitrary and unjustified; employees’ refusal or request for a delay to do so results in retribution and reprisal or the loss of good people.
- The particular challenges faced by this region in the form of higher living expenses and greater commuting times are not believed to be understood by HQ. This is said to result in promotions and career advancement going only to the ones willing to move, not the most competent or best suited for the job. It also means that people are coming temporarily to the region with a pay adjustment in positions for which local employees are qualified, but cannot access because of the mobility rule. This is an important source of frustration for IOs and others.
- The implementation of the ***** is seen as having created two “classes” of IOs. ***** are largely male and it seems, receive all the training. The ***** are largely female and visible minorities. They receive only refresher training. With the two-year rule, ***** are at a disadvantage because they do not get the experience required for admissibility to many training and career opportunities. Appointment as a ***** has been viewed as punishment. The division of roles has contributed to the breakdown in relationships.
- Almost all employees are of the opinion that merit is not the primary factor in staffing choices; that management uses the “best fit” criteria to select who they want. Appointments are not seen to be based on competencies, and there is a lack of transparency in the process.
- Most people believe that recruitment has become difficult because of the financial burden of living in Toronto and because of the poor reputation of its workplace climate. It is focused on bilingualism in the official languages. However, bilingualism in other languages should be considered in their view, as there is an obvious lack of diversity within the office and a need for people conversant in various languages and the cultural sensitivity that comes along with languages.
- The management of overtime and shift schedule is problematic and inconsistent thereby affecting morale.
- Employees feel that they are without recourse; the grievance process is perceived as a risky one (fear of reprisal) and could affect one’s career for a long time. The Employee Association is seen to be powerless. The regional HR Unit is not trusted and employees say they often receive contradictory information from HR HQ.
- Although slow and challenging, a significant number of employees noted that they have observed and experienced positive change over the last 24 months. Almost all employees agree that the workplace is now a more respectful one.
- The presence of women and younger managers at higher levels is having a positive impact and there is more of a cooperative style with the level 9 supervisors.
- Managers are more respectful of each other. The new committees (including social, orientation, mental health committees) are doing well and participation is good.
- The current climate evaluation process is seen as a positive step forward, although many are still sceptical that it will have any impact on what is perceived to be an ingrained, out of date culture, and negative work environment.
Analysis and conclusions
- The Management Report identifies the negative perceptions of employees and offers a possible explanation for the context and circumstances of its development.
- The Report also provides a brief analysis of the overall workplace climate based on the well-known work of author Patrick Lencioni (The Five Dysfunctions of a Team), as well as the work by Professor Joel Brokner of the Columbia Business School.
- In addition to the negative impact of the past leadership style, lack of trust and process fairness are the overarching factors that were found to have contributed to the negative workplace climate that developed over many years in Toronto.
- Employee suggestions for improvement were recorded and reported.
- Recommendations were provided to assist the ADH and the ADC to address the concerns voiced by the participants.
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