This Might Surprise You - the Answer to Workplace Bullying Actually Came from Government
It might sound crazy, but the answers to workplace bullying came from Government. In fact, the answers came from the Australian Government.
In 2012, Australia's House of Representatives, Standing Committee on Education & Employment, Australia (HRSCEE) submitted its report “Workplace bullying: We just want it to stop”.
Whatever your role is at your organisation, whether you are the CEO, the Director, the Middle Manager, the HR Manager, the Courier or even the Receptionist, the fact is that it doesn't matter who you are... this post should really mean a lot to you. The fact is that workplace bullying occurs more than most of us would like and if somehow this post resonates with you, assists you, educates your workplace, gives you hope, or helps with your own self awareness, then I have truly done my job.
What is workplace bullying?
Bullying is an abuse of power, arising horizontally, downwards or upwards. Bullying can come from unusual sources, such as when information and expertise is used to gain power. Bullying is targeted at individuals or groups and can include aggressive behaviour, teasing, practical jokes, pressure for a person to behave inappropriately, excluding someone from work-related events and can even be unreasonable work demands on a person. Bullying is “unreasonable behaviour” which is “victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening. Australian law determines that bullying is not “reasonable management action”, which is when a Manager makes decisions about poor performance, takes disciplinary action and directs and controls the way that work is performed.
Bullying can happen to people of all ages and at all levels within an organisation and can even occur to an organisation's high achievers. “Mobbing”, an “emotional assault”, occurs from psychologically abusive behaviour stemming from one person who creates a group that fosters continuous actions to force a worker to exit the workplace. Mobbing can occur to enthusiastic high achievers who have ethical standards, who promote respect, human rights and dignity and who have integrity.
The impact of bullying can be varied and even individual and can result in the victim being psychologically or physically harmed, leaving them powerless, however workers must somehow find the confidence to be able to speak up, which is difficult if they fear victimisation, censure and losing their position in the workplace. Victims can also suffer psychological injuries that impact on future prospects for employment.
Bullying victims can be presented
with a dilemma like no other. A "trifecta" can occur in
bullying, which is when: victims are faced with a toxic environment that they
work in; they may not have another job to go to; and they are in difficult
What about the bully?
A “bully” may not necessarily be aware that their behaviour may be impacting others and bullying could be intentional or unintentional. There also doesn’t appear to be information for alleged bullies and the victims of bullying can also be those accused of bullying, the forgotten ones, who can be “... really badly stigmatised” (Caponecchia).
The organisation's dilemma - A messy business, indeed
Collapsing stairs comes to mind for an organisation dealing with bullying - It could be difficult to reach the top, especially when a toxic culture is at work. “Drama spiral” occurs when bullying is not addressed promptly, with multiple stakeholders becoming involved and the truth can even become distorted (Caponecchia & Wyatt 2011), however early intervention can empower victims, helping them to self-manage their situation.
ROI - After all we are running a business, aren't we?
Australian employers have legal responsibilities in managing the risks of workplace bullying. Bullying can deteriorate workplace culture, impact a company’s reputation, increase employee turnover, reduce productivity and utilise management resources. Toxic workplaces impact the worker, co-workers, the organisation, the health system of the nation and the international competitiveness of the nation’s economy, not to mention the impact on the worker's family and friends.
Organisations rife with workplace bullying will have to contend with increased costs from absenteeism, presenteeism, recruitment and training new workers - however an improved workplace culture will produce a ROI, because work quality can be improved, along with brand reputation and product innovation. Additionally, improvements in workplace health and safety leads to increased organisational performance, absenteeism is reduced and morale is improved.
Death by a thousand cuts...
A key determinant of workplace bullying and its longevity is workplace culture - toxic workplaces stem from a failure in addressing negative behaviours such as bullying. The destructive and subtle nature of an unfavourable workplace culture can manifest itself as a “death by a thousand cuts”. Furthermore, when bullying is not promptly dealt with, the bully receives the opportunity to continue (and satisfy their needs), thus increases their behaviour.
A culture of respect
Organisations must take responsibility and be proactive in reducing bullying, creating a culture of respect and trust, outlawing bullying and resolving disputes early on. Organisations must foster cultures where workers are treated with respect and dignity, permitting workers to raise concerns. Rather fittingly, it is argued that organisations must create a culture that treats respect as a “basic human right, rather than a transactional thing that is earned and lost”.
It's all about the training
Managers might be promoted but they may not have the leadership and interpersonal skills to effectively manage people. Bullying can relate to ambiguity and role conflict, meaning workers must have the relevant skills to do their work, they must understand their duties and Managers must be good communicators and have good skills to manage people – if Managers do not have these skills, they should be provided with training before they become Supervisors.
Organisations must train Managers
in competency based training and “soft skills” that include conflict resolution, self-awareness, dispute
management and “general management abilities” and they should
improve awareness and mindfulness of Managers, so that they notice troubling
actions and behaviours amongst workers.
Workers need skills in “appropriate assertiveness” and must be self-aware, so they are able to have difficult conversations. Workers must use more appropriate language and better approaches and appropriately reframe situations, so that respectful conversations can be had, even when situations are challenging or difficult.
Health and safety workers must be provided with information and training that will help them to advise and support workers that are experiencing bullying. Workers must also be given training and information regarding their responsibilities in bullying and they will need to know how to be aware of the presence of workplace bullying and how to respond.
The Bullying Prevention Policy - Pure Fantasy?
A bullying prevention policy must be created in consultation with workers and should include a definition of workplace bullying (including examples), consequences for not complying, list the process for reporting bullying, should encourage use of the process, provide a process for managing vexatious reports, outline responsibilities and accountability of decision makers, provide contacts within the organisation and detail the investigation process. A Bullying Prevention Policy should also arguably include an external party, particularly when workers may feel that internal mediation will not be suitable.
Core objectives for organisations should be to create workplaces where all workers are treated with respect and dignity, relevant systems of work should be designed and productive working relationships should be the norm - larger organisations may even need numerous policies and procedures.
Well, for some organisations it is! Whilst an organisation may have a well written bullying policy and procedure, the culture may not support it.
Risk, education and complaints
Organisations should follow a risk management process and identify if bullying exists, assess the impact of workplace bullying and its likelihood of occurring, implement control measures and review and monitor the effectiveness of the control measures. Workers can receive bullying messages via information sessions, toolbox talks, team meetings, newsletters, pamphlets, payslip messages, posters, intranet announcements and emails and Managers and Supervisors could have KPIs that encourage positive workplace behaviours
When dealing with workplace bullying complaints, organisations should treat matters seriously, maintain confidentiality, act promptly, should not victimise, must support all parties, must be neutral, should communicate process and outcomes and keep records
The Bystander and the Manager
Bullying can be sustained because
of a “code of silence”, which occurs when workers may be scared that they will be
victimised or that they may even become the “subject of bullying behaviours
workers contribute to an organisation’s culture and workers are collectively
responsible, meaning even the Bystander has a role in bullying, however
Bystanders could feel helpless, be unsure exactly how to respond and could fear
being bullied themselves.
The Bystander can play an integral role in increasing awareness and responding to workplace bullying by encouraging strategies that foster safety and creating confidence for other bystanders.
Middle Managers also play a key role, as they are the ones who workers are frequently in contact with. The response by Managers should be immediately when inappropriate conduct occurs and this can be a means of reinforcing positive role modelling, however if Managers do not handle inappropriate behaviour, a message is sent to workers that the behaviour is acceptable.
Managers need to be conscious of and observe bullying, including subtle incidents and must have the ability to constructively speak up and take bullying complaints seriously. Managers must also become skilled in giving and receiving feedback, which are core skills required for people management.
What are your experiences related to workplace bullying?
Are you okay?
This post is intended to give employees and organisations information (and hope) on workplace bullying, however should not be relied upon for legal or mental health advice. If you’re in Australia and need mental health support or information about suicide prevention, call Lifeline 13 11 14, SANE Helpline 1800 18 7263 or Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636. If you’re not in Australia, please talk to a qualified professional who can be there to help you.
HRSCEE 2012, Workplace Bullying: We just want it to stop, House of Representatives, Standing Committee on Education and Employment, viewed 18 February 2016, http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_Committees?url=ee/bullying/report.htm. You can read my original blog post here. Images in order of sequence: Evgeni Kolesnik, alphaspirit, Andrey Bondarets, alphaspirit, Dusan Petkovic, Kaspars Grinvalds, katalinks, alphaspirit