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Dealing with workplace bullying

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HC Online | 01 Jul 2010, 12:00 AM Agree 0
Despite these alarming statistics, workplace bullying continues to go mostly unchecked, and is often perpetrated by those in management positions. Tony Wilson assesses the cultural aftermath of bullying in the workplace
  • Bernie Althofer | 01 Jul 2010, 02:50 PM Agree 0
    At a recent conference, it was suggested that the hierachy of controls be applied in bullying situations. In particular, eliminate the hazard was suggested as the ideal. This is another way of expressing a zero tolerance approach. How might it work? Eliminating the hazard could mean terminating the services of the 'alleged bully' after appropriate managerial strategies had failed, unless of course, the behaviours were so bad that instant dismissal was warranted. Understanding of what really happens in the workplace as part of the culture is important, particularly if there is an expectation that policies will be complied with. How many Boards include workplace bullying as an Agenda item? What do Boards use to tick off a 'level of satisfaction' regarding workplace bullying? What strategies do they have in place to address all forms of inappropriate behaviour? Will they be able to meet their obligations and due diligence requirements under the forthcoming Work Health and Safety Act? When was the last staff survey conducted? What happened to the results? How do Executive Officers demonstrate their commitment to safe work environments if they do not take a proactive and preventive approach to inappropriate workplace behaviours? How do Executive Officers prepare to defend their personal or organisational reputations when they are accused of condoning a climate of tolerance leading to acceptability of inappropriate behaviour? Sometimes, some fundamental systems and processess have to be changed to ensure that employer and employee expectations are in alighment. Creating that common understanding and alignment requires acknowledgement that a problem does exist, and doing more of the same, may not be the solution.
  • Felicity Law | 05 Jul 2010, 09:04 AM Agree 0
    Great article Tony. I agree with your statement regarding the main driver behind bullying and there is double reward when no action is taken by the organisation. This translates as acceptance of such damaging behaviour.

    I know of an organisation who recently had 3 resignations due to workplace bullying - 2 different bullies. Collectively, the organisation lost almost 10 years of loyalty and IP, in comparison with what they retained - less than 3 years.

    Regardless of the values, policies, and procedures in place, there must be people to drive these - or a shall I say, "the right people". In the above case, this particular company had systems and processes for this ugly behaviour, but the ongoing bullying (spanning over 6 months) demonstrated a lack of severe lack of action by the organisation that could have, and may still, result in legal action.

    A senior manager of an organisation recently asked me for advice regarding workplace bullying to which I offered "Don't underestimate the impact it has on people, because by the time it is reported it, it's usually too late".
  • Bernie Althofer | 06 Jul 2010, 11:49 AM Agree 0
    Physical injuries are easy to see whereas the long term psychological trauma caused by the bully can go on for years even with appropriate counselling or support. Second guessing, looking over the shoulder, always questioning self ability, going to work with trepidation, not knowing who to trust (or if they should) and the flow on affect to families, friends and associates. Sometimes the questioning and finger pointing of blame only makes long term recovery harder. Even very strong people who have been bullied have suggested that the mere mention of the word bully is enough to trigger a flashback to an incident. My advice to managers (at any level) - preventive and proactive strategies have to be taken. Manage the bullies and make the hard decisions about their behaviours (even if they are your friend) - when the chips are down, you will find out where their true colours lie. Support those who report any form of inappropriate behaviour, and change systems or processes if the current ones are not working. Do know that not everyone will report workplace bullying - some will simply pack up and move on. Don't be afraid to challenge workplace conflict when you first see it or hear of it - it will escalate if not dealt with. It does require leadership and as Felicity says "the right people must be in place to drive the prevention, detection and resolution processes" and create a safe workplace. There is no excuse for not doing that.
  • Rum Charles | 06 Jul 2010, 12:05 PM Agree 0
    Bullying in the work place can be overt but is often a covert activity, I think it is very difficult to stamp out with a zero tolerance policy, as that kind of attitude can be seen as bullying in its self if not implemented correctly. I feel and from my experience with dealing with workplace bullying situations it’s about having an empowered workforce who can recognise when a manager, a peer or a subordinate is engaging in bullying behaviours weather covert or overt. Empowering all in the workforce is the best way to beat bullying as an empowered workforce does not engage in bullying and when an individual within the collect tries to do so the culture of the collative stops their attempts from having an impact, the bully will then understand they have a choice desist from their negative behaviour or leave the organisation to find a place where their manipulations work.
    After all the culture of any organisation is the actions and attitude of the people not what is laid down from the top.
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