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Thou Shalt Not Bully

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HC Online | 22 Jul 2013, 12:00 AM Agree 0
Bullying has become the catch-all term for employee dissatisfaction.Salli Browning suggests that helping employees find more accurate terms for the conflict situations they encounter can alleviate the epidemic faced by HR.
  • Bernie Althofer | 26 Jul 2013, 12:50 PM Agree 0
    It seems to me that by the time 'bullying' gets to HR it is already well advanced.

    It might be appropriate to ensure that risk assessments are conducted across the organisation, the hazard/risk factors assessed, and it might just be the case, that this process identifies the need to ensure that line managers and supervisors and even workers are trained in various aspects of conflict identification and management, along with communication skills.

    Understanding the short, medium and long term physical, psychological and financial implications of work place bullying as it applies in a work health and safety context, is not just the role of HR. It is important that HR plays a role in ensuring that those directly involved in the day to day management supervision and management of workers understand their obligations.

    It is reasonable to believe that with appropriate and relevant investments being made in implementing controls at various levels within an organisation, it is possible to reduce the incidence of workplace bullying, and even mitigate the fallout that occurs when an incident happens.

    Putting all the onus and responsibility for preventing, detecting and resolving workplace bullying on HR for what is an obligation placed on all officers and workers, seems to be one way that an organisation can increase their level of risk exposure. It seems that by spreading the onus for meeting individual and organisational responsibilities will put bullying under the spotlight, particularly when individuals understand the implications of not meeting their obligations. Ignore the obligations at your peril.
  • Steve Champion | 02 Aug 2013, 09:40 AM Agree 0
    Excellent article Salli.

    Interesting point about the growth of workers comp claims. Similarly, I have found in organisations that institute safety programs, there is often an increase in wc claims despite the supposed new focus on safety. Some of that will be employees reporting things they previously wouldn't have, but I believe that the other reason is that some people will latch on to safety as an outlet for their own unhappiness at work, or some sort of exit strategy.

    I am totally disappointed that the opportunity wasn't taken by Federal Labor when instituting its bullying legislation to require dispute resolution processes to be mandatory for all stress, bullying and harassment claims, with the power for orders to be made against both parties, not just the employer.

    What is being created is an extra means of slapping employers, when often the employee is an equal or even greater contributor to the problem having developed.

    The workers compensation system has got to be the worst way these claims could be handled, but the new bullying laws are likely to be not far behind if a punitive approach is going to be taken by the FWC. As the system has been established to redress wrongs against employees, there will likely be an assumption the employer is at fault to begin with.
  • Bernie Althofer | 02 Aug 2013, 10:34 AM Agree 0
    As I have indicated in other forums and groups, perception can be all important. For example, most managers would believe that saying to an employee "As a matter of interest, what do you have on next week?" would be a fair question, and perhaps reasonable management. However, in some cases, depending on the 'evidence' presented, this very question might be assessed as unreasonable management.

    It seems that across the board, there are many genuine cases of workplace bullying and harassment. However, there may be some situations where as soon as the word bullying is raised, there is an automatic 'need' to report the matter as such, without first conducting some preliminary inquiry to determine the nature of the incident i.e. is it a workplace conflict or is it bullying?

    It seems that in some cases, when some people are confronted with allegation that raises bullying, no inquiry is conducted to determine what has actually happened. Given that Courts, Commissions and Tribunals are making some interesting decisions, it might also be the case that when a 'bullying' matter is raised, the matter is documented as bullying.

    Various discussion groups have identified the pros and cons of 'forcing' people into mediation or dispute resolution. There seems to be mixed views as to whether or not this really works. One of the main arguments for not making it mandatory is that the workplace hazards or risk factors are rarely addressed, and in addition, co-workers are not included in the process.

    In workplace bullying cases it appears to be the case that the workplace bully as an employee is the main contributor to the incident. Targets don't go to work to be bullied, although it does it appear from some discussions, there is an expectation that targets stand up to the bully.

    It seems that there needs to be a greater focus on managing risks in communication encounters across an organisation. There may always be tensions that emerge among ethical, relational and performance obligations in the workplace. Learning to understand the risks and how to manage or control those risks could be advantageous to everyone.
  • Steve Champion | 02 Aug 2013, 11:29 AM Agree 0

    I am trying to make a distinction between 'real' bullying claims (and there are sure to be many of those), and employees labelling any sort of conflict at work as bullying, even where there own behaviours help create the conflict.

    For example, employees being asked to perform the basic tasks of their employment, to turn up on a regular basis to work etc. The legislation excludes reasonable management action such as performance management, but I fear it will be necessary for the employer to prove the reasonableness of every action. This will ultimately result in many employers avoiding taking action to begin with, which creates a vicious cycle because expected behaviours and consequences become less clear.

    Then there are situations where particular personality types are pre-disposed to sensitivity about not being included in every conversation or being liked by everyone. Agree with your comment about managing risks in communication encounters, but to what extent should an employer be responsible for every employee not feeling 100% welcome or comfortable at work?

    We start to get an entitlement culture - 'my employer owes it to me to make me happy'.

    Thankfully most people don't think that way, but we have ample experience of client employers dealing with employees who think that way. Neither the employee or the employer win out - and the cost of dealing with those cases can be significant. So I am suggesting a circuit breaker mechanism is needed for those particular situations.
  • Bernie Althofer | 02 Aug 2013, 12:39 PM Agree 0
    Steve, I know exactly what you are saying. I think that in some cases, people jump straight in and call it 'bullying' without first thinking about what has actually happened.
    I think that in some cases, there is insufficient time spent educating people about the rules of engagement i.e. management rights and obligations and employees entitlements and obligations. Yes, time is spent on covering the various policies, but in reality there are as you indicate some people who challenge managers when they are being asked to told to do what they are paid to do.
  • Howard Whitton | 05 Aug 2013, 04:33 PM Agree 0
    Bernie; Steve - points well made. There is an app for this...(soon)

    It was the problem of the dollar-cost and other costs of dealing with both genuine and non-genuine/strategic/mistaken allegations of bullying in the workplace that led us to develop a diagnostic app (which can also be used for training and certification, and risk-identification). We launch in November. Stay in touch! ;))
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