Bullying happens in the workplace because….

From our experience of working with many and varied clients, workplace bullying happens because managers allow it to. Some managers may condone bullying (and in fact display bullying behaviours themselves) because they either consciously or subconsciously subscribe to such ideas as:

-          this is the way a person is treated when they are ‘different’ or not liked;

-          a colleague deserves a bit of a ribbing or needs to be put ‘back in their place’ from time to time.

However, in the main, most managers do not condone bullying and are allowing such behaviours to happen because they consider behaviours they are observing to be appropriate, they just don’t notice what is going on around them or they do notice but fail to act effectively. Most bullying incidents are the result of unresolved, escalating conflict issues. For those managers who are aware that bullying behaviours exist in their teams, most have difficulty in speaking up in the moment in front of others and knowing what to say. Most managers fear that in speaking up, they will be labelled as a bully.

The crucial actions required in every workplace to minimise workplace bullying include having every manager at every level be able to

 1) notice inappropriate behaviours /comments;

2) speak up constructively in that moment; and

 3) take complaints of inappropriate behaviour seriously.

Workplace policies on their own are not sufficient to stem the rise of workplace bullying incidents because a written policy on its own does not inhibit the subconscious reactions that lead to the exhibition or outward display of a person’s behaviours. This can be verified by the number of cases presented in courts where organisations have relevant, clearly articulated and highly visible policies in place but employees have still behaved inappropriately. Nonetheless workplace policies are noted as important to set foundations for the aspired culture and provide structure and consistency with expected behaviours, complaints handling and disciplinary procedure.

With the proposed introduction of changes to the Fair Work Act and new ‘anti-bullying’ measures, more investment in managers is required to reduce the chance that your organisation is reported to the Fair Work Commission. Your organisation can support managers to:

-          Better understand  the definition of bullying and what constitutes bullying behaviours;

-          Know what the organisation considers as inappropriate behaviour;

-          Role model appropriate behaviour;

-          Be alert to incidents of inappropriate behaviours;

-          Be aware of low staff morale, high absenteeism and other such markers;

-          Know what the organisation expects in immediate response to observed behaviours;

-          Have the confidence to speak up constructively in the moment;

-          Know what to say and do when others report incidents to them;

-          Know the boundaries of confidentiality; and

-          Understand the costs associated with bullying - the vicarious liability and fines they could personally face, loss of productivity, reduced capacity for team work, absences, workcover claims and the human impact.

Minimising the risk of a bullying incident minimises the risk of a Fair Work Commission order being placed on one of your employees or the organisation itself.

Please phone or email Catherine Gillespie for further details about the upcoming changes to the Fair Work Act and strategies to mitigate risks associated with workplace bullying.

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