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No such thing as an innocent bystander in workplace bullying

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HC Online | 14 Aug 2012, 12:00 AM Agree 0
New research has found that workplace bullying can involve everyone in a workplace, and adds weight to the old saying that those who aren’t part of the solution, are part of the problem.
  • Bernie Althofer | 16 Aug 2012, 09:45 AM Agree 0
    Changes to Work Health and Safety legislation that has occurred and continues to occur due to the harmonisation processes might cause officers and workers to rethink organisational policies and procedures designed to prevent, detect and resolve workplace bullying.

    If there is potential for a co-worker (read bystander/witness) to be drawn into an investigation and possible prosecution because they were present and 'did nothing' to prevent the breach of work health and safety, then it might mean that individual understanding of how the policies and procedures relate to them might need to be re-assessed.

    It is one thing to have a policy and procedure, but it is another thing having it implemented in the manner intended. Unfortunately, for those organisations who send out email notification of a change of policy or procedure, it is possible that even bystanders/witnesses do not get the opportunity to clarify exactly what their duty of care requirements are in relation to preventing or reporting workplace bullying.

    As targets become more skilled in documenting details about the incident, and including witness details, and present this evidence to their legal advisors, co-workers and even organisations need to be aware that whether they like it or not, they may be directly or indirectly involved, and may face the possibility of responding in a Court, Commission or Tribunal.

    Everyone has to understand the legal implications regarding their role as a bystander, so it is imperative that every organisation maintain currency of knowledge regarding legal decisions in this area, and ensure that all officers and workers are provided with this information.
  • Erika Ford | 20 Aug 2012, 04:48 PM Agree 0
    All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’
  • Bernie Althofer | 21 Aug 2012, 07:35 AM Agree 0
    In the ideal world, witnesses and bystanders would 'step in' in every case where bullying occurred. However, given the complexities of issues involved and the potential for some witnesses and bystanders themselves to be targeted and even vilified, getting them to be involved is not as easy as some people would like.

    In organisations where there is tolerance and even acceptance to any form of counterproductive behaviours, and where organisational cultures are such that a climate of fear exists because of issues such as job security, one should not expect a sudden change in practices.

    However, continual education using a range of strategies such as mock courts, and integration of recent Court, Commission and Tribunal decisions into those presentations, will allow workers and officers to understand the personal implications and the need for intervention.

    Getting decision makers to change the way 'training' is delivered might be a bit harder unless there is value adding.
  • Stuart King | 23 Aug 2012, 05:32 PM Agree 0
    The implications for bystanders who observe workplace bullying should not be under-estimated and I agree with Bernie's key comments. Our recent survey of 5000 Australians indicates that bystanders may well be caught up in the 'tournaments' that play out every day in organisations. Activating bystanders to take action and reduce incidences of bullying was the subject of discussion in Copenhagen in June during the 9th International Conference on Workplace Bullying & Harassment. Academic research is focussing in this area and it may well provide answers to mitigating risk for people and for the organisations they work for.
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