Bullying audits could prevent the blame game

by Stephanie Zillman10 Oct 2012

A proactive approach to bullying could really change the landscape of workplace bullying in Australia – yet organisations continue to lose millions of dollars in reactive approaches instead.

That’s according to a leading Australian industrial psychologist, who says organisations simply aren’t doing enough to prevent workplace bullying from happening in the first instance. “If we are to truly address the problems associated with workplace bullying and its cost to the economy, we need to broaden our focus beyond punitive measures and how we deal with incidents once they have occurred,” Dr Rod Gutierrez, head of psychological-based safety programs at DuPont Sustainable Solutions said.

To Gutierrez, the stock-standard approach taken by most organisations – replete with zero-tolerance policies and counselling of offenders, is failing. “Far more can be achieved when we take a more holistic view of both the risk factors and their associated effects, allowing governments, organisations and individuals to more effectively deal with and stamp out this problem,” he commented.

Most organisations have safety rules, oversight professionals and a system to manage performance. Yet, despite all these well-established procedural and behaviour-based reinforcement measures, incidents have shown a sharp rise over the past decade. According to Gutierrez, viewing workplace bullying in isolation is compounding the problem, and he says much of the time and effort that currently goes into punishing workplace bullying would be better spent on preventing it and creating a psychologically safer workplace from the start.

A new approach gaining traction among some organisations is to conduct a so-called ‘bullying audit’ – instead of reacting to complaints as they come through, the workplace culture and relationships are proactively reviewed to ensure compliance with policies. One consultancy which deals in the business of external workplace reviews and audits is Worklogic, who say conducting a review is the first step in identifying negative indicators which could turn problematic if not addressed. These indicators may include ‘noise’ about workplace problems, such as gossip or excessive absenteeism.

Conducting a review or audit should not be a witch-hunt, or done with the intention of exposing anyone; rather, much like a general health check-up, it is an open and qualitative exploration of what is going on in the workplace from the perspective of the employees.

According to Worklogic, the key features of a workplace review are:
 

  • The workplace review is instigated by the employer
     
  • There is no need for a specific complaint from a named complainant
     
  • The person or team conducting the review/audit speaks to a larger group of employees
     
  • Employees should not be probed about a particular issue or “problem”. Instead, a workplace review provides an opportunity, in private, for each employee to explain their experiences in the workplace, and to raise any concerns they have about their workplace and any opportunities for improvement;
     
  • The end result may be a report which, rather than making ‘formal findings’, makes recommendations about how the workplace can be improved.

 

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COMMENTS

  • by Bernie Althofer 15/10/2012 12:05:13 PM

    The need for workplace bullying risk audits has been promoted and discussed in various forums for a number of years so it is great to see that some organisations are taking the advice.

    Whilst the case of Evans V Lee and the Commonwealth Bank a number of years ago was about sexual harassment, the Tribunal did make comments that audits/assessments should be conducted to see whether or not the policies and procedures were being implemented. These findings could also be applied in relation to workplace bullying.

    There is another issue regarding when to conduct a workplace bullying risk audit. Whilst in some cases, organisations may chose to conduct such an audit post-complaint, the proactive organisations do not wait that long. Instead, they ensure that a broad ranging audit is conducted in relation to workplace relations and counterproductive workplace behaviours. In this way, they can identify the level of risk exposure they face, the actual issues that have potential to cause grief, and then have the opportunity to identify and implement improvement strategies.

    It might well be the case that whilst bullying is perceived to be a major issue, underlying hazards and risk factors associated with organisational change, negative leadership, workplace culture etc are creating an environment conducive to bullying behaviours.

    I would encourage a proactive approach in conducting these audits, although I don't believe the audit per se will prevent bullying behaviours. A well conducted audit should identify those factors that might contribute to a breeding ground of bullying, and this in turn, gives officers and workers and opportunity to develop and implement strategies that will mitigate the fallout when bullying does occur.

  • by Bernie Althofer 15/10/2012 5:44:09 PM

    The need for workplace bullying risk audits has been promoted and discussed in various forums for a number of years so it is great to see that some organisations are taking the advice.

    Whilst the case of Evans V Lee and the Commonwealth Bank a number of years ago was about sexual harassment, the Tribunal did make comments that audits/assessments should be conducted to see whether or not the policies and procedures were being implemented. These findings could also be applied in relation to workplace bullying.

    There is another issue regarding when to conduct a workplace bullying risk audit. Whilst in some cases, organisations may chose to conduct such an audit post-complaint, the proactive organisations do not wait that long. Instead, they ensure that a broad ranging audit is conducted in relation to workplace relations and counterproductive workplace behaviours. In this way, they can identify the level of risk exposure they face, the actual issues that have potential to cause grief, and then have the opportunity to identify and implement improvement strategies.

    It might well be the case that whilst bullying is perceived to be a major issue, underlying hazards and risk factors associated with organisational change, negative leadership, workplace culture etc are creating an environment conducive to bullying behaviours.

    I would encourage a proactive approach in conducting these audits, although I don't believe the audit per se will prevent bullying behaviours. A well conducted audit should identify those factors that might contribute to a breeding ground of bullying, and this in turn, gives officers and workers and opportunity to develop and implement strategies that will mitigate the fallout when bullying does occur.

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