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HR dilemma: When bullying is blamed for poor performance

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HC Online | 22 Sep 2014, 12:30 PM Agree 0
What risks does HR face when an employee claims their underperformance is due to workplace bullying?
  • Gerard | 22 Sep 2014, 01:05 PM Agree 1
    Unbalanced article!

    To allege that they have been bullied by their manager, take personal leave, and make a workers compensation claim, is ALSO the easiest and most reliable tactic used by those who are not performing, are worried about their performance, or are indeed incompetent. In fact, the only time I've seen a college pull that tactic was then they were not performing or had been caught lying on their resume and were never going to be skilled for their role.

    The tactic described is so easy and learnable, in fact, I've seen people coaching others on how to do so convincingly. The WIIFM is compelling - "extra holidays with a bonus". If only they put that much energy and creativity into their work...
  • Bernie Althofer | 22 Sep 2014, 02:32 PM Agree 1
    As many have commented across a range of discussion groups, it seems that both managers and workers have concerns with performance management and the potential for allegations to be made during the process.

    It seems that whilst many organisations do have well documented policies and procedures, the implementation thereof or the actual workplace practices in relation to performance management do leave the door open to allegations.

    It seems that to reduce allegations, all parties involved or potentially involved in the process of performance management and appraisals, need to be actually trained in what is specifically required.

    In addition, the policies and procedures have to be followed (irrespective of whether or not people like it) so that natural justice and procedural fairness are present. From experience, it seems that individuals may be more likely to perceive they are being singled out when there are variances in how the policy and procedures are applied.

    It seems the best way to reduce the potential of allegations being made is to ensure consistency in the application and implementation of the process i.e. the same process for everyone.

    All too often organisations provide training in relation to workplace bullying and overlook the need to ensure that hazards or factors that contribute to bullying or the potential for bullying to occur are addressed and controls put in place.

    Relying on word of mouth to learn about performance management is hardly ideal. In much the same, emailing a performance form to an employee with a time for completion, is in my view, one way of creating a situation where a worker will challenge any assessment.
  • Michael Collins | 22 Sep 2014, 04:23 PM Agree 0
    Unfortunately, workplace bullying and harassment by managers is more common than previously thought, and is responsible for mental and physical harm to employees as well as damage to organisations. Whilst managers are often praised for 'getting results', e.g., by managing poor performance, sometimes employees view such task-focused actions as bullying or abusive.

    There are at least two issues that need to be resolved here. First, impulsive aggressive behaviour often occurs in demanding work situations where managers feel under pressure to perform and have difficulty controlling strong negative emotions. This outcome is more likely for managers with low attentional resources (e.g., working memory/fluid intelligence).

    Second, poor performing employees often react anxiously or angrily to such behaviour. This can lead to avoidance (e.g., unplanned leave) or aggressive behaviour (e.g., arguing), respectively. Both reactions are clearly ineffective and often demonstrates further poor performance by the employee.

    The solution involves helping managers recognize the impact of frustrating situations on their emotional reactions and inappropriate behaviours. The tendency for managers to react this way under pressure is the subject of a number of recent studies at the Australian School of Business, UNSW (available on request).
  • Denis Jenkins | 22 Sep 2014, 06:58 PM Agree 0
    I do not believe that an employee should be able to make such a claim at a performance review. If a company has adequate conflict management policies put in place, it is up to the employee to use the proper channels for such a complaint. The complaint must be made immediately the bullying occurs and the person should have evidence to back up the claim. It must be made very clear that unless proper channels are used for the resolution of conflict that consideration cannot be made at a performance review. It is the conflict resolution process that would be making such considerations not the performance review process itself. These problems occur only in companies where there is poor boundary and that such policies are not made clear to the employees. If that is the case the company has made their own problem and therefore must wear it. It is a matter of good and clear governance.
  • Bernie Althofer | 23 Sep 2014, 08:40 AM Agree 0
    Life as a manager is never easy. It is even more difficult when a person finds themselves in a managerial position and they lack the knowledge, skills and abilities to perform at that level. There will be times when a manager in this situation may struggle, and their ensuring behaviours etc may be perceived by others as bullying.

    There is little doubt in my view that managers are being expected to perform in the best interests of their organisation. It seems that for some, they have been promoted into a managerial position because of their operational skills, and if as reported recently in the media, that 7 out of 10 managers should not be let near workers, then perhaps the selection process needs to change. However, it might also be the case that if an organisation uses the performance management process to provide those managers with learning and development opportunities, the level of risk might reduce. Learning and development needs to be viewed as an investment in the future.

    However, when performance management processes are reduced to a tick and flick approach where everyone gets the same tick, then a level of mediocrity develops. This may suffice until such stage that a skilled manager comes in and starts communicating with their workers. They can then find allegations being made because some workers perceive the system is being used against them.

    Organisations can and do introduce a range of difference performance management systems. It does seem that it is the implementation thereof that ends up creating an issue. If managers or workers perceive the system to be time consuming, too bureaucratic, does not value add, or information gathered is used in the manner intended, then the level of risk exposure might increase.

    There may be times when the performance management process is required to manage a person out of an organisation for various reasons. However, given this should be a last resort when all other options have been tried and tested, problems may occur if the worker indicates that previous assessments only contain high praise, or there has been no 'remedial' or 'corrective action' incorporated into the performance process.

  • Bernie Althofer | 23 Sep 2014, 09:49 AM Agree 1
    It seems that whilst performance management processes conducted in a reasonable way has been and always will be reasonable management actions.

    In my experience, individuals do not make complaints of bullying at the performance review, although they may from time to time use the review to explain how bullying has impacted on their performance. In my experience they are more likely to perceive that the performance management process is being used as a tool to bully them e.g. being singled out, treated differently to other workers.

    Conflict in the system is going to occur when either the manager or the worker or even when both parties have received no formal training on how the process works (and that includes how to lodge a grievance if they are not satisfied with the assessment made).

    Some organisations do provide coaching for all parties so that issues that lead to frustration, angst and complaints can be negated.

    The communication aspect relating to performance management and appraisals can be the most difficult, and I suspect that has given rise to various publications that outline how and why to have difficult or fierce conversations.

    People don't make formal complaints for many reasons e.g. power imbalance, need to maintain income etc. Some of the other barriers that can exist include:

    Lack of policy, procedure and training in how to report bullying
    Out of date, not evaluating effectiveness of training

    Mistaken belief of what is required to report an incident
    Informal versus formal reporting

    Resolution options that provide an option of ‘doing nothing’
    Target has to make the decision

    Workplace culture and practices
    Tolerance and acceptance

    Fear and perception
    Repeat victimisation
    Reward for alleged bully

    It seems that in fair and just performance management process, managers and workers who engage in regular discussions about performance and productivity would be equally aware of factors that have a positive and negative impact. Waiting until the end of the year tick and flick to raise factors e.g. bullying that may have impacted negatively is an indication that the process is not working.
  • David | 23 Sep 2014, 10:35 AM Agree 0
    I would like to ask regarding the articles last paragraph:

    "Woodward will draw on recent case studies and offer tips as to how performance should be managed, to reduce the risk of a successful bullying claim."

    So... as I interpret it, Woodward will not be offering solutions to reduce and prevent bullying in the workplace, just providing legal tips and strategies to prevent success of a claim, regardless of its veracity.

    Is this correct?
  • Bernie Althofer | 23 Sep 2014, 10:48 AM Agree 0
    HR managers and internal legal advisers would in my view be interested in strategies that they can implement on behalf of the organisation to reduce the risk of a successful bullying claim.

    Workers would be interested in knowing in how they can be successful in achieving a position result in relation to their bullying claim or allegation.

    Managers would probably want to know what they can do to detect workplace bullying, what they can do to prevent or reduce the risk of bullying occurring on their watch.

    Alleged bullies or those accused of using bullying behaviours may want to know how whether or not their actions would be considered reasonable.

    Workplace trainers and support personnel e.g. Harassment Referral Officers etc may want to understand current trends and issues impacting on workplaces so they can incorporate same into workplace presentations.

    I guess if I were a target sitting in the audience and heard about tips and strategies to prevent the success of a claim, I would use that information to identify any gaps that might weaken my claim or reduce the chances that I have in getting the outcome that I wanted.
  • Gerard | 23 Sep 2014, 11:00 AM Agree 1
    Awesome comments. I'd propose that there seems to be three levels of performance management — and organisation, managerial and employee perceptions and responsibilities around performance and bullying are different at each level:

    3. Suitable process exists and is followed
    2. Suitable process exists and is not followed
    1. Suitable process does not exist

    I'd also suggest:
    - the ability of a manager to manage performance is itself part of their own performance that needs to be managed by their own manager
    - the ability of an employee (including a manager as employee) to participate well in the management of their own performance process is itself a performance matter
    - the organisation needs to ensure that a suitable process exists (including appropriate access to resources and training)

    I agree that some managers deliberately or inadvertently end up bullying.
    I agree that some employees use the grievance process inappropriately and falsely claim bullying.
    I agree that some performance management practises are unsuitable and make the experience of bullying or the ability to falsely claim bullying more likely.
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