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Avoiding the issue; the real cost of "avoidance" management

18 March 2014

As workplace bullying cases continue to appear in the news, we look at one major contributing factor, which may not be obvious to many.

Poor management styles clearly influence the behaviour of team members and can serve to set or perpetuate unhealthy, inappropriate or damaging workplace cultures.

There are different types of behaviour managers may exhibit which can be detrimental to team morale and productivity, but an "avoidance" management style is not always identified as a cause for concern.

Avoiding dealing with issues as a manager can have a range of effects depending on the behaviour in question and the team being managed. Alongside the more obvious problems such as reduced productivity, a manager who routinely fails to deal with performance issues can suffer a blow to their reputation, as disgruntled team members complain behind their back, but may also find that behavioural issues ensue.

When a team member is underperforming and nothing is done, there is a chance that other team members, who may be picking up the slack – working longer and harder to get the job done, will turn on the underperformer or begin to treat them differently. The manager's avoidance can feel disempowering and disrespectful to the team and can create a poor atmosphere, where the risk of inappropriate behaviour is higher. High performing employees who feel undervalued are also more likely to move on.

Employee Relations 101 I ER101 training iHR Australia v2 18.2.14

iHR Australia's Managing Director, Stephen Bell comments:

"Chronic avoidance leads to managers not dealing with poor performance or poor behaviour. Managers that don't deal with poor performance end up creating resentment among some team members that can lead to behaviours such as isolation, sarcasm or gossip: all behaviours we associate with workplace bullying. Furthermore, managers who fail to deal with poor behaviour are often unconsciously reinforcing patterns of unacceptable conduct."

Clearly, performance is not the only area where an avoidance management style is potentially dangerous; a manager who fails to address inappropriate behaviour they witness, or that is reported to them, can find themselves in trouble. Not only is this unhelpful to the team members affected by the behaviour, it could leave the manager or the organisation open to claims of vicarious liability, should a workplace investigation find them to have neglected their duty of care. Bell states:

"Ignoring poor behaviour and management responsibilities is simply not an option; managers must be provided with the necessary training and coaching to help them develop the skills to have difficult conversations about performance and behaviour. Organisations should see this as part of their duty of care, rather than a 'nice to have'."

An article in the Age this month calls this type of manager the "invisible boss" noting that "aloof" bosses can be just as costly to businesses as micro-managers.

Providing workplace bullying and harassment training for all staff is one step towards preventing claims of workplace bullying. However, it is also essential that training is provided to managers, especially those who may be new to people management, on their employee relations responsibilities in general, as well as how to effectively and lawfully manage performance.

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