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Are you doing enough to prevent workplace bullying?

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HC Online | 18 Oct 2012, 12:00 AM Agree 0
Claims by employees of workplace bullying are becoming more and more common - are your policies in line with the latest legal advice?
  • Bernie Althofer | 19 Oct 2012, 01:56 PM Agree 0
    I suspect that most organisations would like to believe that they have well developed policies and procedures designed to prevent, detect and resolve workplace bullying (and other forms of counterproductive workplace behaviours).

    There seems to be an increasing number of Court, Commission and/or Tribunal decisions and findings being made where bullying has been raised in conjunction with other workplace relations issues.

    Whilst there appears to an increase in the prevalence of workplace bullying claims, the unreported incidents may also be increasing for a number of reasons. Certainly over the years a number of public and private sector employees have indicated that they will not use internal reporting systems and processes because 'a bad job is better than no job', they fear victimisation, intimidation or further harassment, or in some cases the workplace culture is such that reporting any form of counterproductive behaviours is tantamount to treason.

    Discussions about what is and what is not bullying and reasonable management is continuing to be in the spotlight. As numerous forums on the national and international arena have indicated over the years, it takes more than a policy to stop bullying behaviours.

    Some organisations have committed considerable resources in the way of support staff e.g. Harassment Referral Officers, Peer Support Officers, access to EAPs/EAS, additional training, Codes of Conducts, Performance Management systems, discipline process etc and yet bullying continues.

    Could it be that resolution options are such that they do not provide effective relief for all concerned? Is the focus primarily on a 'requirement' that the target makes the decision as to how they 'resolve' the incident?

    How much emphasis or focus is provided throughout organisations on providing the alleged bullies with development opportunities to change their behaviours? It also seems that organisations need to ensure that managers and supervisors have appropriate knowledge and skills required to manage or deal with negative workplace conflict before it escalates into allegations of bullying or other forms of workplace violence.

    I suspect that as workplaces provide more in the way of educational resources, individuals access and use any one of the numerous self assessment tools available, there will be an increase in reporting of workplace bullying as individuals know and understand that organisations need to provide safe working environments.

    As I indicated in other forums, organisations will not be in the box seat when confronted with a claimant who has a well documented log of claims. So, as indicated in other forums, there is a need to conduct workplace audits or assessments to identify gaps in policy and procedure, and not just in relation to workplace bullying, but across the broad spectrum of workplace relations issues.

    It is all very well and good pointing the finger at organisations and saying 'you should do more'. How can organisations do more to address the problem if they lack real data showing the extent of the problem? Audits and assessments can help find the issues that lie at the bottom of the iceberg.

    In defence of executives, they have a range of strategic issues where they have to make decisions based on data. If data does not exist showing the level of risk exposure, it is probable that the 'risk' will not get the attention it requires.

    Individuals need to be provided with systems and processes that both support and protect them when making complaints or allegations about workplace bullying. When individuals perceive that those systems or processes do not provide 'safe environments', they seek advice external to their organisation, and as a result, the organisation does not know about what potential claims might be just around the corner.
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