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Train victims to stand up to workplace bullies, says expert

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HC Online | 28 Jun 2011, 12:00 AM Agree 0
New Victorian Government legislation against workplace bullying won’t curb incidences of bullying but instead may encourage the development of a “victim culture” among workers, according to a specialist in corporate wellbeing and life balance.
  • Jason Knight | 30 Jun 2011, 02:09 PM Agree 0
    Sure, to point I agree on what is said. However, a person who bullies should be pulled into line and dealt with quickly. Not a slap on the wrist and told don't do it again. It is the culture and people who don't stand up and say it is wrong.
  • Janine Zaia | 30 Jun 2011, 03:00 PM Agree 0
    A fascinating perspective. If only every staff member were assertive and confident. Alas, they are not. Agreed, Coaching and development will assist, but the issue here 'is' the Bully. My preference is a Zero tolerance culture.
  • Carole Goldsmith | 30 Jun 2011, 03:02 PM Agree 0
    Yes, but sadly the employers bring in employer nominated mediators who also bully the bullied.
    Employees must stand up to themselves and insist that they choose their mediator either from their union or from their Employee assistance program.
  • Madeleine Baldissera | 30 Jun 2011, 03:32 PM Agree 0
    I found Dr. Lanthois' comments...interesting. However, it is important to send a clear, unambiguous message from the nation that workplace bullying will not be tolerated. 'Victims' have the added reassurance and community blessing to speak up whereas before they were unsupported by society. This power to speak up ensures that 'victims' become 'survivors' and 'educators'. To me it's a little simplistic to say "It takes two to tango." The law now says "If you don't want to dance, you can say NO and that's fine with us." Some people just don't get it. If a worker suffers, so does a business, family, community.
  • Lynda Winter | 30 Jun 2011, 04:05 PM Agree 0
    I agree it takes 2 to tango when it comes to bullying but I think this article only looks at half the issue. Bullying in the workplace is illegal and employers should take action to eradicate bullying from the workplace. The perpetrator needs to be dealt with as well as the victim being able to assert themselves. But really why should the victim have to? you go to work to work not to protect your self from bullies.
  • Bernie Althofer EGL I ASSESSMENTS PTY LTD | 01 Jul 2011, 09:21 AM Agree 0
    Workplace bullying is a complex issue requiring complex solutions. There is little doubt that there is extensive literature on the topic. Whilst there may be some differing views on how the issue should be dealt with, it is important that there is discussion and debate and that we respect the right of others to offer their views. Over the years, I have spoken as a practitioner to a number of people who have been subjected to bullying. In some cases, the target has moved to victim and then to survivor with the help of professional advice and support from psychologists etc. In some cases, individuals have decided to 'just live with it', and in other cases (minority), the individual has maintained a 'victim mentality' as identitied in some literature. In many of these cases the individual being targeted has asked the question "What have I done wrong?". All the individuals that I have spoken to were strong, confident, productive, reliable workers. This brings me to the points made by the late Tim Field who discussed a number of myths in relation to workplace bullying.
    Myth One - Victims are weak

    Targets of bullying have no interest in power or exercising power. They go to work to work and they are not interested in office politics or conflict. Targets of bullying have high moral values, a vulnerability (e.g. need to pay the mortgage) strong sense of fair play and reasonableness, a low propensity to violence, a reluctance to pursue a grievance, disciplinary or legal action, a strong forgiving streak, a mature understanding of the need to resolve conflict with dialogue.
    Myth Two - Victims are loners

    Targets of bullying are independent, self-reliant, self-motivated, have no need to form gangs or join cliques, have no need to impress, and have no interest in office politics.
    Myth Three - Victims are not team players

    Targets of bullying are not corporate clones and drones. They are independent, self-reliant, self-motivated, imaginative, innovative, and full of ideas. Bullies operate a divide and rule regime and work hard to isolate and disempower their target who they falsely accuse of “not being a team player”.
    Myth four - It takes two to tango

    Abusers choose to abuse, molesters choose to molest, rapists choose to rape, harassers choose to harass, bullies choose to bully.
    Myth five - Victims are sensitive/oversensitive

    Sensitivity comprises a constellation of values to be cherished and nurtured, including empathy, respect, tolerance, dignity, honour, consideration and gentility. Anyone who is not sensitive is insensitive. Bullies are callously insensitive and indifferent to the needs of others and when called upon to share or address the needs and concerns of others react with impatience, irritability and aggression.
    Given the views about myths identified by Field, it is important to address the needs of the target/victim to help them regain some semblance of resilience. However, it is also important to recognise and understand that the alleged bully also needs to change their behaviours. After all, it is the alleged bully who creates the issue for the target in the first place. However, creating the changes for this person may not be as easy as one would like it to be. It might be that the alleged bully gets good results for the organisation, has created strategic alliances and a strong power base with those higher up the organisation, an unwillingness of the manager to 'performance manage' the individual, or as Jason indicates, a culture where bullying is tolerated to the point of acceptance, or where witnesses/ bystanders 'fear' reporting of or becoming involved in standing up and speaking out. If need be, change the environment so that it makes it impossible for the bullying behaviours to occur in the first place.
  • Kate Connellan | 06 Jul 2011, 11:48 AM Agree 0
    Great article Dr. Lanthois! We often see the same perspectives on bullying presented over and over again so it's nice to look at it a different way. Bernie, I appreciate your comments too as they have added to my understanding. As an ER professional, I am struck by the number of friends and family who report that grievances and complaints, meant to be kept confidential become a source of gossip, intrigue and disruption as the HR department attempts to engage stakeholders in a solution on behalf of the complainant. The final outcome (resignation of that person) is rarely good. I have found that in many cases, supporting the victim to feel stronger and stand up for themselves is far more effective, empowering and good for engagement.
  • Claude G. | 07 Jul 2011, 02:40 PM Agree 0
    I to some extent agree that it takes 2 to tango but someone has to lead! Yes, empowering a victim to not be passive and an opportunity for a bully to take aim to feel better about themselves is a positive step, but this can only be achieved if the bully is dragged into line and reprimanded for the behaviour. Only then will a victim feel empowered that "something" is seen to be done and only then will they begin to build resilience. I see too often as a manager in an organisation a bully "get away with it" which only leaves the victom more dperessed, more stressed and ultimately more vulnerable. I do not tolerate or condone bullying behaviour with my team, strangely enough, no bullies and no victims.
  • Bernie Althofer | 08 Jul 2011, 09:38 AM Agree 0
    Collectively we all have something that we can contribute in this discussion. I rely heavily on my practical experience as a Harassment Referral Officer and as a Peer Support Officer, and now as a consultant/author. I have provided advice to victims/targets, alleged bullies and managers/supervisors and to health and safety managers. My experience indicates that no two individuals respond exactly the same to a bullying incident. In some cases, the victim/target expresses genuine concerns about the behaviours being used towards them. However, their willingness to make a formal complaint can be constrained if the HRO is bound to report official misconduct or misconduct, hence they take the "I have a friend" approach. Confidentiality is an issue and HRO's go to great lengths to explain their reporting obligations. However, in some cases the victim/target is so 'tormented' by what is happening to them, they self disclose. To their credit, some alleged bullies have sought advice regarding concerns about their own behaviour. They look for strategies about communication or management practices, as they seem to understand that how they communicate is a trigger in some cases. Managers/supervisors want advice in simple terms about what they can and can't do, and how they can manage the victim/target and the alleged bully who 'resolve' the incident, but still have to work together. Health and safety managers take a 'big picture' view and want to know what their CEO should be doing. In some cases, telling the alleged bully that their behaviour is offensive, intimidating and threatening may result in the behavour stopping. However, depending on the beliefs and values of the alleged bully, it might be like waving a red rag to a bull. The other issue to consider is the actual workplace culture and whether bullying is tolerated to the point of acceptance. For example, there may be organisations where the day to day activities can be fairly confrontational and employees are exposed to high levels of occupational violence. Some might suggest that 'bullying' goes with the territory and that employees should just 'suck it up'. However, creating environments where individuals can stand up and speak out about questionable inappropriate behaviour is essential. It is also important that safety leadership occur and with the emergence of changes to the work health and safety legislation and due diligence requirements for officers coming into effect, it is important that organisations continually review their proactive and preventive approach to all forms of inappropriate workplace behaviour. It is possible that a range of strategies be developed to suit the needs of individuals. Clearly though, whilst the law is coming down against workplace bullying e.g. Victoria and stalking legislation, workplace cultures can be the major impediment to driving out bullying behaviours. It is always good to hear of stories where managers take a strong stance against workplace bullying. Leading from the front foot and demonstrating by actions can have immediate results.
  • Bernie Althofer | 08 Jul 2011, 11:31 AM Agree 0
    The prevention and detection of all forms of inappropriate workplace behaviours starts from day one. The question is "When is day one?" From an employees viewpoint, it might the day they actually start and an employer might have the same view. In this day and age, both the employee and employer should anticipate the likelihood that there will be a incident involving some form of inappropriate workplace behaviour. Reducing the risk of exposure and demonstrating that there has been a degree of preventive and proactive controls put into place might assist. For example, what should an organisation do? I would suggest that even before new employees are recruited, there should be a review of job/descriptions to ensure that the 'right' person is being recruited e.g. round peg for round hole. People can be selected on potential and merit. However, unless there is alignment between the values and beliefs of both parties, there could be conflict. Potential employees should ask questions to get a good understanding of what it is like working in the organisation. Panel interviews may not include questions such as "Bill/Mary are very authoritation and have high expectations. They frequently yell and shout at workers, change work priorities at short notice, and work on the 'take no prisoners' basis. How would you deal that?" At a very basic level, I believe that is important to have a copy of a job/position description and to know what is expected (and any other 'hidden' extras that go with the job), understand and have a copy of the Code of Conduct, know how the performance management system/process works, understand the system/process for reporting inappropriate workplace behaviours (and the consequences for not reporting), understand the rewards and punishment system (promotions/pay and discipline), mentoring arrangements, support networks (Peer Support Officers, Harassment Referral Officers, EAS/EAP services, Chaplaincy), confidentiality restrictions, role of unions and external agencies, what is reasonable management actions (e.g. performance management) and how the workplace culture views bullying and harassment. There may times when an invidual has so little faith in the internal systems and processes that they seek resolution through external means. In some of these cases, litigation will require the individual to have knowledge of those documents previously mentioned so that the legal professional can build a case. Keeping notes is another critical issue that is sometimes 'overlooked'. Notes should if possible be taken at the time and kept in a secure location (not on your desktop). Once again, when managers have a good understanding of the organisational policies and procedures about all forms of inappropriate workplace behaviours and they clearly spell out their expectations and support those expectations through their actions, there should be a substantially reduced need for litigation or resolution. However, from time to time, even simple questions can result in findings being made that the actions were unreasonable. Keeping notes is so important and their value can be overlooked.
  • Bernie Althofer | 14 Jul 2011, 03:37 PM Agree 0
    Consider this situation. A female employee with a disability caused through a major medical operation. Whilst her workplace has conducted assessments and provided headphones to address the noise issue, the behaviours of her line manager and those above that person, and her work colleagues suggest that she is being 'frozen out' of the workplace. Despite raising concerns regarding workloads, she has not been provided with any tasking for her specialised work. In addition, a worker from another area who dabbles in her field of work was taken from an operational area and her work provided to him. Despite the organisation havng a performance management system in place, the particular workplace has not participated in the process for the past 3 years. So here we have a female with a disability (as per medical assessment) being discriminated against, deliberate actions being taken to 'constructively dismiss' her, a HR officer telling her "If you don't like, you should just leave", a toxic workplace culture that has existed for several years, an apparent lack of willingness on the part organisation head to pull the line manager and their cohorts into line, and a team of support people who whilst providing good support to the individual lack the organisational power to address the real issues. Cases like this illustrate where an unwilling partner is forced to tango, whether they like it or not.
  • Richard Greiner | 21 Jul 2011, 02:38 PM Agree 0
    I can't believe what I've just read;

    '...the attitudes and behaviours of the victims (of bullying) that are part of the cause.'
    Dr. Lanthois's attitude gives narcissists and psychopaths free reign to bully and at the same time blame their victims.

    'Predators only attack their prey, so it’s vital for victims to stop acting like prey. If victims keep acting like prey, their actions can encourage more attacks.'
    This would be true if we were a purely animalistic and instinctual race of beings. We are, however, civilized and have this remarkable thing called nurture.

    'The reality is that no other person can force you to feel a certain way regardless of their intent. Victims need to be aware that ultimately it is your interpretation of events that cause you to feel bullied or discriminated against and that is a choice by you. The one thing I’m sure of is that a workplace without victims is a workplace without bullies'.
    This sounds like a bully's mantra for excusing his/her bullying behaviour.

    Victims of bullying are not 'Tangoing'. If they were, they'd be giving as good as they get.

    Thankyou Bernie Althofer, for your intelligent and insightful responses.

    Bullying should NOT be tolerated in any form and should be dealt with immediately. Everyone should be trained to recognise any form of bullying and be well versed in all of the avenues in which to report it and their responsibilities to take action.

    Workplaces should be emotionally and mentally safe as well as physically safe.

    Zero tolerance!
  • StopBullies | 24 Aug 2011, 07:12 PM Agree 0

    Bullies comes in all form and the worse ones are the corporate bullies who hides behind the law.

    FCC now have an army of RPI (Revenue Protector Inspector) who are out to earn money off you through prosecution threats and criminal resorts.

    Let STOP THESE BULLIES NOW! Please sign the petition and forward to your friends and family before they become victims too.
  • buy motrin online | 15 Oct 2011, 10:48 PM Agree 0
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  • Bernie Althofer | 20 Oct 2011, 02:22 PM Agree 0
    I suspect that in some cases, organisations would prefer that allegations of workplace bullying or harassment and many other forms of inappropriate behaviours did not see the light of day. However, in reality I suspect what is happening is that as more and people who are being targeted advice, guidance and counsel, they learn what it is that they need to do to counteract the negative behaviours being used against them. Bullying and harassment is becoming more and more complex with no simple and clearly defined agreement about what is and what isn't bullying and harassment. In the ideal world, we should be able to work in environments where there is respect and dignity but sadly this is not the case.
    It seems that in some cases the behaviours of workplace bullies is not seen as damaging, and in fact, the behaviours are rewarded as it is precisely what is required to get results/outcomes or make a dollar for the organisation.
    Confidentiality clauses attached to out of court settlements are rarely made public so there can be an unrealistic belief that a claim will 'only cost $20,000' when in reality, out of court settlements may result in million dollar settlements. Aside from the money aspect, the long term physical and psychological damage caused to the individual can have devastating results across a broad range of contacts.
    I suspect that the vast majority of those who are subsequently targeted by workplace bullies, have entered into a workplace in good faith believing that they would be shown respect, fairly treated and with dignity, that they would be afforded common courtesies regarding recognition and reward, and not subjected to endless deliberate acts resulting in psychological trauma, and in some cases, death.
    I think that most of those targeted would not have anticipated the need to have to stand up and fight the bullying behaviours, that they immediately retreat (flight) and after some time, when the stark realisation comes about what is actually happening, they continue the flight (resign/transfer), or they seek advice, guidance or support and attempt to resolve the matter. Unfortunately, as I have indicated in other comments, being assertive and addressing the behaviours can come at a cost, if there is no 'real' organisational support and only lip service is being paid to addressing the issue.
    I think that we should call bullying for what it is - a dangerous workplace practice that can and does result in workplace deaths.
    I have indicated in various comments that simply having a workplace bullying policy and procedure will not suffice, unless there is actual implementation of same. There also needs to be regular audits or assessments to determine whether or not the policy and procedure is being followed, and if not why not. I suspect that in some cases, good intent of executives is not sufficient if the workplace culture is such that both condones and tolerates any form of inappropriate workplace behaviours. Perhaps organisations are happy living with dark secrets and hope that no-one ever scratches below the surface to find any patterns of behaviours identified in any reports or even staff surveys.
  • Bernie Althofer | 21 Oct 2011, 10:32 AM Agree 0
    Many of the discussions about workplace bullying seem to focus on either training the victim/target or on addressing the alleged bully.
    However, if the focus was on creating some real learning development opportunities for supervisors, line managers and even executives on preventing and detecting workplace bullying, perhaps they could and would play a better role. There may also be some supervisors, line managers and executives who use bullying behaviours in these learning and development groups. However, I would suggest that these sessions would be more provactive, more insightful and even more engaging by using scenarios such as 'mock' Court, Commission or Tribunals. I would suggest that one way of keeping supervisors, line managers and executives on their toes is by using 'unannounced' sessions i.e. professional facilitators engaged by an organisation for a set period and during this period they would go from workplace to workplace at random, conducting the 'mock' Court, Commission or Tribunal style workshops. I believe that these types of workshops would be controversial, create workplace discussions and importantly force organisations to pay attention to changing legislation, trends and issues, and even Court, Commission or Tribunal decisions. The point of this type of workshop is to create a learning environment when individuals get to understand how to respond prior to the real thing. Giving that there are work health and safety changes occuring in Australia, and psychological health will be as important as physical health, it is time some boundaries were pushed to that workers at all levels understand their obligations and responsibilities in detecting and preventing workplace bullying.
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