The client

The BBC is the national broadcaster of the United Kingdom. Based in Broadcasting House, London, it is the world’s oldest national broadcaster, and the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees, employing more than 30,000 staff including part-time, flexible, and fixed-contract workers.

The challenge

In the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, during which the trust of audiences and employees alike was tested to breaking point, the BBC Executive Board wanted to conduct a thorough consultation review of what it is like to work in the corporation.

The review also needed to establish appropriate behaviour for staff and freelancers, in line with the BBC Values, and particularly the core value of Respect.

Against a background of well-publicised allegations of bullying and sexual harassment the project demanded a highly sensitive and objective approach. Change Associates was asked to help.

The BBC commissioned Change Associates to conduct an extensive review, working closely alongside the BBC’s own HR department. Dinah Rose QC, a barrister with expertise in human rights, discrimination and employment law, was asked to oversee what became known as the BBC Respect at Work Review.

What we did

We established a project team that included specialists in employee consultation and engagement. Our consultants designed a series of interviews to enable our specialists to gather relevant qualitative data on an individual and group basis. We then began to construct a schedule that would maximise the opportunity to participate, while ensuring we could meet the BBC’s tight deadlines.

The consultation meetings were publicised through internal communications channels including the intranet and staff emails. Management cascades, union briefings and staff forums were also used.

Freelancers, staff employed by suppliers, current and former members of staff were asked to contribute.

Change Associates consultants met with 350 people in group workshops and 200 more in one-to-one interviews. We also reviewed more than 375 emails, voicemails and written submissions, including contributions from the major unions. In total, 930 people’s views were heard.

The sample included representatives from all levels and a broad selection of departments. Lengths of service varied from six weeks to 40 years.

The process was designed to emphasise the confidential nature of the consultation to ensure participants could speak frankly in a safe environment.  

This consultation was supplemented with workshops for specific target groups (including HR, Industrial Relations, and third-party suppliers) and meetings with around 40 managers named as positive role models

The result

Change Associates delivered a detailed report to the BBC Executive Board, highlighting the key findings and recommendations below.

  1. Pride is a strong and consistent theme
    People are hugely proud to work for and with the BBC and this acts as a powerful retention factor.
  2. Incidents of sexual harassment at the BBC today are uncommon
    Sexual harassment was not a common theme in the current BBC workplace.
  3. There is evidence of inappropriate behaviour/bullying at the BBC
    Concerns raised about bullying and other forms of inappropriate behaviour were much more prominent in contributions to the review than concerns raised about sexual harassment.
  4. Some staff are fearful of raising issues
    An undercurrent of fear was present in the research. For some, there was a weary sense that no action would result from raising issues. This was fuelled by a lack of belief in management’s desire or capability to tackle difficult issues.
  5. Leadership
    There is not enough clarity about the behaviour expected from managers, staff, freelancers and talent.
  6. Role of HR
    When issues do arise, they need to be tackled more quickly and to greater effect.
  7. People Management
    There are good examples of people management at the BBC but it needs to be more consistent. Many staff have had positive experiences and have some very good people managers. Some managers saw a lesser value attributed to management skills when compared to technical skills, editorial judgement or process knowledge.

In its review of the report the BBC fully accepted Change Associates’ analysis and conclusions. Unions also supported and endorsed our findings and BBC employers were able to see positive changes happening because of the review.

Click this link to read the full Respect at Work review.

Image (c) Shutterstock



Contributors to the Review expressed a desire to use it as a means of strengthening the culture and working practices of the BBC.

Ensuring everyone who works for the BBC knows what behaviour is expected

  • Re-launch BBC values
  • Creating a guide to the BBC for all new employees
  • Examples of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour
  • Values more prominent in people decisions
  • Discussions about the Values (in teams and centrally)

Improving the way problems are tackled

  • Rework Bullying and Harassment Policy and increase scope
  • Confidential helpline
  • Better publicise routes for improved in-house support services
  • Formal complaints of Bullying and Harassment heard outside division
  • Bullying and Harassment complainants made aware of outcome
  • Aim to hear Bullying and Harassment complaints within 30 days. First hearing within 10 days
  • Expert mediators

Greater support for managers

  • Mentors for all managers who want one
  • Re-visit training and development for managers
  • Training programme for tackling bullying and harassment
  • First time line managers to attend Introduction to Management
  • Identity and recognise best people managers

Improving the way performance is measured and monitored

  • Quarterly Values Surveys
  • 360° feedback survey for line managers of 10+ people
  • Work pressure Index
  • Exit survey
  • Monitor number of formal complaints of bullying and harassment at Management board
  • Publish anonymous data

“I was immensely impressed with your team, and the quality of the work you did. The bottom line is that you obtained and analysed evidence that was so clear that there was really no room for argument about the message that needed to be given. I think it is remarkable that the management were prepared to accept it in terms that also satisfied the unions. And really, that is down to you.”

Dinah Rose QC

Independent chair of the Respect at Work review

“The experience of working with Change Associates has been incredibly positive. We really threw them a curve ball. We wanted something doing incredibly quickly; that had to be handled with enormous sensitivity. We said to them we need sessions run all over the country with as many as our staff as you can get to. Oh, and by the way we need it now!

They were responsive; they were generous in terms of giving their time, their thoughts and their ideas. They were just lovely to work with.”

Lucy Adams, Former HR Director