How can HR deal with rising cases of workplace bullying?

Bullying and harassment are "systemic" in the New Zealand Parliamentary workplace

How can HR deal with rising cases of workplace bullying?

This week it was found that bullying and harassment are "systemic" in the New Zealand Parliamentary workplace, according to the report into Parliament bullying and harassment.

Cases of alleged sexual assault were also included in the report and three of those were described as "extremely serious and some appeared to be part of a multi-year pattern of predatory behaviour".

There are three main ways workplace bullying can manifest itself, according to psychologist and bullying- specialist author Aryanne Oade.

Oade added that in order for an incident to be classed as workplace bullying, three elements need to be present, whether they are subtle and indirect or outright and obvious.

The three elements are:

  • one-off, frequent or repeated personal attacks which a person finds emotionally hurtful or professional harmful;
  • a deliberate attempt by the bully to undermine a person’s ability to carry out their work or to injure their reputation or to undermine their self-esteem;
  • a deliberate attempt by the bully to remove personal power from a colleague and keep the power for themselves.

With more than 30 years of working with job seekers and company’s recruiting staff, Jane Kennelly, Frog Recruitment Managing Director, has found bullying to be a common reason for candidates to seek a new job and recommends some basic strategies for people to deal with it.

“Speak up. Most people fear that by speaking out they will escalate the situation, especially if the bully is their senior,” said Kennelly.

“Not speaking up though can make it easier for the bully to continue the behaviour.

“Try and deal with the situation promptly, which allows the person being bullied to have control over the situation and can often change the power dynamic.”

Kennelly also recommends countering the bully’s remarks by asking them to validate their comments, as often they are “slanderous”.

The use of confident body language is also important, which can disarm a bully. She recommends documenting every conversation or incident that could be interpreted as bullying behaviour.

Indeed, Kennelly has witnessed many cases where it is management who are doing the bullying. In this instance, she suggests talking to an employment advocate or lawyer.

“A healthy workplace is a productive workplace. It is vital for management or senior leaders to foster a team atmosphere and encourage people to work together and support each other,” said Kennelly.

“Bullying will only stop when the leaders stop tolerating it. It needs to be stamped out immediately – don’t waste time – get on to it immediately.”

Kennelly also has some strategies to follow for those who are witnessing bullying happening in their workplaces.

“Keep a diary of the mistreatment and keep records of any emails or communications that may contain mean-spirited comments.”

She added that you can also support the person being bullied in private if that feels more comfortable.

“Share with management or HR and while you may not be the bully’s target, you may find the atmosphere toxic and that has proven to impact your wellbeing.”

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