Employees at a North Yorkshire council were reduced to tears and even left feeling suicidal due to a historic culture of intimidation and bullying, a damning report has revealed.
Public humiliation, emotional abuse and unmanageable workloads were part of everyday life for certain staff members at Ryedale District Council.
One former employee claimed she had to "ask permission to use the toilet" and detailed how she was left feeling suicidal after years suffering at the hands of domineering and manipulative behaviour from managers.
A report into increasing allegations of bullying was eventually commissioned in 2017 and completed the following year, but due to action taken to address the problems, its findings were never made public until last month, following a Freedom of Information request.
It reveals some staff were bullied to the point of leaving unannounced, with jokes circulating about 'The Disappeared', while perpetrators "picked on" people, discussed "problem" colleagues within earshot of others and even "moved things around in the office just to make a statement".
The Malton-based authority, which covers one of the country's largest areas but has one of the smallest populations, underwent major restructuring in 2015, with staff reduced from 270 to 170.
The reduction led to increased, often "unmanageable" workloads, with a culture of bullying emerging which allegedly came "from the top down".
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, a former employee described the mistreatment of certain staff as "emotional abuse", telling how both she and a colleague had both felt suicidal because of the toxic atmosphere at the department in which they worked.
The female employee, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "You had to ask to go to the toilet, if you left the room you had to explain where you had gone.
"The managers would constantly micromanage and nitpick us, they would show you up and put you down in front of other people in the office. They wouldn’t take you to one side and say something, they would say it in front of people. I found it was just easier to not speak hardly and kept my head down.
"[The manager] would walk from his desk to where my group sat, marching up and down constantly swearing and stamping his feet as he went past. He would say things like, ‘well, I’ve been looking at your computer and there’s been no activity in the past five minutes, what have you been doing?’."
The independent report, carried out by John Raine and Eileen Dunstan, included findings from a survey and interviews with current and past employees.
It reveals that more than half of the respondents were apparently aware of bullying within the organisation, but that managers "turned a blind eye and tacitly condoned such behaviour".
One respondent told researchers they knew of people being bullied but who were afraid to complain after seeing a colleague formally report it with no action taken. The colleague in question subsequently left on voluntary redundancy, according to the report.
The anonymous female employee continued: "They ruined a lot of people's lives, not just mine.
"My colleague now has another job, but she has also been suicidal. Only two weeks ago she started crying in the supermarket, saying she had wanted to 'top herself'.
"The whole situation was emotional abuse."
The employee left shortly after the restructuring of staff, claiming she eschewed the prospect of a large redundancy payout in order to prioritise her mental health.
She said: "Even though I knew they were going to give people redundancies, I didn’t want to stick it out. At this point my health was suffering. I was totally suicidal, and to be honest I’m still not happy now.
"It was just an absolutely toxic atmosphere. They exploited people without any fear or shame.
"Ryedale Council should have had a duty of care towards staff, but they didn't."
When asked by The Yorkshire Post why such behaviour was allowed to continue, a spokeswoman for Ryedale District Council said that since the posting of current CEO Stacey Burlet in August 2018, "prompt and decisive action" had been taken to deal with the historic issue.
The spokeswoman added that the report was not published until last month whilst "all necessary action to eradicate bullying" was in progress and an Overview and Scrutiny committee had concluded its investigation.
CEO Ms Burlet said: “We have no place for bullies or bullying at the Council, and we are absolutely united on a zero tolerance approach to such behaviour.
“Action has been taken to deal with specific issues, and we’re taking steps to build on the positive, family feeling we have at Ryedale District Council. We have a new people and culture plan, which staff helped to create, and which is generating results. New policies to strengthen how we tackle inappropriate behaviour went before our Policy and Resources Committee just this month (February).
“We’re fully focused on how we value and support our great staff team, so that they can do the best possible job for the citizens of Ryedale.”