Blowing the whistle on workplace bullying
Jenny Williams busts some of the myths surrounding the issue of bullying and harassment in the workplace – particularly from a small business owner’s point of view. Myth number 1 – that anything you or a manager does could amount to bullying. There is a lot of nervousness about how to act or not act […]
Jenny Williams busts some of the myths surrounding the issue of bullying and harassment in the workplace – particularly from a small business owner’s point of view.
Myth number 1 – that anything you or a manager does could amount to bullying.
There is a lot of nervousness about how to act or not act so that behaviour is not perceived as bullying. This is never more true than when it comes to having difficult conversations with employees, particularly if they are being performance managed. It is critical to remember that the WorkSafe definition of “bullying” requires the behaviour to be unreasonable – are the actions you are taking reasonable in the circumstances? This includes not just what you are doing, but how you are going about it. Put yourself in the employee’s shoes and ensure you are acting fairly and in good faith.
Myth number 2 – the person accused of bullying is solely to blame.
Consider two scenarios: The first is you hire a new employee and they immediately start acting inappropriately towards colleagues. It would be easy to dismiss this person as a “bad egg”, but think about your hiring practices – did you ask questions that highlight how this person works and what they value? Did you incorporate your business values into the interview questions? For key roles, or if you still have doubts about a candidate, psychometric testing can also highlight working styles that may not be aligned with your business.
The second scenario is an employee who has worked with you for years. They’re known for behaving inappropriately, but are a good worker so get away with it. Everyone knows this is how they act, but its excused because this is “just the way they are”. Often, dealing with this employee’s behaviour is put in the ‘too-hard basket’, because they’ve acted like this for years. But what impact is this person’s behaviour having on staff morale and engagement, and therefore productivity? Are the actions of this employee contributing to your turnover rate? Are other employees beginning to act badly as well? All of these things have a quantifiable cost to your business that could be saved if you address your behaviour. It can take just one person to completely change the dynamics of a team, but the impact once the behaviour is dealt with, even if that person leaves, is enormous.
Myth 3- Every allegation of bullying needs to be investigated.
If a serious allegation of bullying is made, that, if it was found to be true, would result in the person accused of bullying receiving a warning or even being dismissed, you definitely need to carry out an investigation. But for all other matters, the focus should be on restoring the relationship between the parties, rather than apportioning blame. Often, investigations are a no-win situation and can have a detrimental impact on both the impacted employee and the person accused of bullying. It puts them in polarising positions so can be very difficult to restore the relationship at the end of the investigation. More often than not, bullying behaviour occurs in private, where there are no other witnesses. This results in a he-said/she-said situation and often the person accused of bullying must be given the benefit of the doubt when making findings regarding what has occurred.
This article follows on from ‘How to deal with bullying in your workplace’ – a feature story in the May Quarterly ‘People Issue’ of NZBusiness. Jenny Williams (pictured) is chief client officer at HR consulting specialist Humankind. www.humankind.nz