Instances of bullying in the workplace are an issue for many employers at some point especially if not managed correctly it can be very costly. However a lot of the advice and suggestions for dealing with bullying while well-meaning simply do not work.
Let’s have a look at some of the common myths
Myth: You can eliminate bullying in the workplace.
Fact: Bullying is a human behaviour from the playground to the workplace bullies exist. Is it unrealistic to believe bullying in a workplace can be completely eliminated but there are things you can do, some are effective, some are not.
What employers must ensure that they do is take ‘reasonable steps’ to stop or prevent bullying.
Myth: Having well written policies will stop workplace bullying.
Fact: Bullies ignore bullying policies, if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be a bully.
The well written policy helps to protect the employer should an alleged bullied employee make a negligence claim with regard to a breach of duty to maintain a safe workplace.
A well written policy is part of the ‘taking all reasonable steps’ defence and one of the first questions asked in a court of commission is “can you produce your bullying or workplace behaviour policy”
Not having a policy is a huge mistake, but a policy is not the be all and end all of an employer’s responsibility.
Myth: Conducting regular reviews on any anti-bullying related policies will help.
Fact: See above and again useful when arguing the ‘taking all reasonable steps’defence.
Myth: Communicate anti-bullying policies to all employees to emphasise that compliance is required.
Fact: That works well for those who are not bullies but again is ignored by the bullies.
Of course it does add to the ‘taking all reasonable steps’ defence when an employer is asked, “what have you done?”
Myth: Providing information and training to all employees about bullying will reduce bullying
Fact: That’s bit like saying publicising speed limits will reduce speeding when we all know that a speed camera or marked Highway Patrol car reduces speeding.
While this information and training may be ignored by the bullies it is a good opportunity to clearly define bullying and what is unacceptable conduct.
This works best if you are very clear about the repercussions for those who bully.
Make sure that there is accountability of attendance in the case of face to face training (my preferred method) or completion if it is online.
If a complaint is made having evidence that the bully attended training is very useful when it comes to taking disciplinary action and of course it also add to the ‘taking all reasonable steps’ defence.
So far most of the suggestions that I have seen may help to cover the employer but actually have little effect of the prevalence of bullying in the workplace.
Myth: Having a policy that states something like “in the first instance speak to the person bullying you and tell them how they are making you feel”.
Fact: Really, come on, not going to happen.
What you need is;
Myth: The bully’s often aggressive persona and attitude makes them hard to deal with when trying to investigate complaints.
Fact: Workplace bullies like the feeling of power and will often try to ‘Lord it over’and intimidate HR professionals.
In many cases I have been told by HR managers who have engaged me to conduct investigations that the perpetrator will be aggressive and difficult to deal with. It’s funny how when I interview them in a formal manner they are often the opposite, often nervous, compliant and timid when they are out of their comfort zone and not able to flex their bullying muscles.
When bullies know that an employer is going to deal with them in a professional and formal manner the word gets out that bullying will not be tolerated and bullies will be dealt with.
Many workplace investigators are former police officers and are used to dealing with difficult people and they are not easily intimidated.
We refer to workplace investigations as the dark side of HR, as a manager or HR professional if you don’t want to walk on the dark side, call in an expert and save yourself the stress and know that we get it right the first time.
The author Phil O’Brien is a highly experienced and skilled workplace investigator and trainer who can take the stress out of conducting workplace investigations into bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination and other forms of misconduct.
You can contact me on 02 9674 4279 or firstname.lastname@example.org
AWPTI - workplace investigation Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria.
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Misconduct investigations, bullying investigations, harassment investigations & sexual harassment investigations, complaint investigations, grievance investigations, discrimination investigations
This is general information only. It does not replace advice from a qualified workplace investigator in your state or territory. It is recommended that should you encounter complaints in the workplace that you seek advice from suitability qualified and experienced workplace investigators.
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