Letter: Sexual harassment at the CSA

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Sir: Rosalind Miles ('High level of sex; low level of morale', 13 July) quite correctly points out that a promiscuous atmosphere in the workplace means one of two things. Either an unbearable level of stress, as in wartime, or else a demoralised under-occupied workforce.

The case of Stephen Davies who alleged sexual harassment by a female manager also illustrates another aspect of this kind of problem. Both worked for the Child Support Agency whose job is to chase up errant fathers. On one level this is the stuff of farce but many jokes also contain a more serious point.

We are all familiar with the need for careful attention to the danger to workers in industries where physical harm is a serious risk, such as coal dust damaging miners' lungs. However, in our experience, very little attention is paid to the more subtle kinds of emotional 'coal dust' present in the atmosphere of organisations whose primary task concerns the human being in distress, confusion or pain, eg, the NHS, social services, the police. Rosalind Miles asks why the Child Support Agency was apparently so badly managed.

One aspect, I believe, is that its work is centrally concerned with people (ie, parents) who have, for whatever reasons, had great difficulty functioning as authorities in an appropriate way.

It is almost inevitable that this problem will then become reflected and enacted within the organisation and will produce 'blind spots' in the way the organisation is managed.

Until managers in organisations dealing with people in difficulty become better acquainted with these deeper sorts of organisational processes (which are often unconscious) then they will continue to attempt to solve them by more superficial management 'techniques' of which we can see so much ineffective use in both public and private sectors.

Yours sincerely,

JON STOKES

Director and Consultant

to Organisations

Tavistock Clinic Consultancy

Service

London, NW3

14 July

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