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Australian fashion brand sued: Could your team’s workplace culture expose you to similar risks?

How healthy, supportive and harmonious is your organisational culture? If you aren’t actively managing and fostering morale and motivation within your workplace, you may not discover serious employee issues until it’s too late – a lesson that a major fashion brand recently learnt the hard way.

 

The Brisbane-based business has been accused of creating a poor workplace culture that encouraged unhealthy habits, and ultimately lead to bullying on the job.

A former store manager – who is suing the company for $500,000 – claims that senior staff commented on her weight, while also encouraging employees to skip lunch and survive on nothing but coffee throughout the workday.

It has also been alleged that the team environment was hostile to those staff members who weren’t “gym bunnies”, with employees urged to regularly go to the gym in order to fit the fitness label’s “move, nourish, believe” philosophy.

“I’m a mum with kids, and a senior staff member would constantly suggest I skip lunch, or make offhand comments about my lifestyle choices,” the manager said.

“(Staff) would often skip meals and live on coffee, and tried to encourage us to do the same thing. We were meant to be nourishing our bodies but we were never allowed to do that.”

The manager alleges that her superiors’ management style amounted to bullying and lead to her leaving the company after only six months of employment. 

This case highlights the impact that poor leadership – or the perception of ineffective or biased leadership, from an employee’s point of view – can have on an organisation. It is one of many reasons why it is crucial for senior managers to adopt leadership behaviours and management approaches that foster a high performance culture, particularly when managing staff that work in a close team environment.

The manager’s legal representative suggested that the fashion label’s management failed in their duty of care as they “allowed (the manager) to be bullied, harassed and demeaned, despite the numerous attempts she made to have the behaviour addressed.”

“Not only did management ignore the bullying and allow (the manager’s) suffering to be prolonged, we allege that they actively covered it up,” the lawyer said.

The manager shared with the media that the experience had taken a personal toll, as after working at the company for six months, she fell into a depression.

“To go from being in a happy place to being completely depressed was really scary,” she said.

“There is a huge bullying culture in the company, and people need to know about it.”

The label’s spokeswoman said the company “vehemently denies all allegations made by (the manager)” and would “fearlessly defend” them, but declined to comment further as the matter was before the courts.

The situation emphasises the fact that cultivating an inclusive and harmonious workplace, particularly in organisations that promote a close team environment, is an ongoing issue for managers and leaders. A poor workplace culture can create an environment that facilitates bullying and fails to promote inclusion, both of which can lower productivity levels while also exposing the employer to legal risks such as this.

iHR runs a full-day workshop that can help participants develop skills when managing team performance. This training program aims to help participants build competence and confidence in effectively managing staff performance within the workplace, which can help organisations to minimise their risks of cultivating a poor workplace culture.

 

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