Bullying is repeated behaviour that could reasonably be considered to be humiliating, intimidating, threatening or demeaning. It can be direct or indirect and may be inflicted by one person or by a group.
Employers should pay heed to the rising trend for litigious claims on workplace bullying as they will be increasingly scrutinized on their ability to respond promptly and diligently to workplace bullying. Legal recourse is often sought when the initial complaint of workplace bullying is not properly addressed, displaying an employer’s lack of duty of care.
Rather than risk the loss of reputation, profit and productivity as well as strained workplace relationships, time-consuming legal claims and costly payouts, how can organisations proactively promote a bully-proof workplace?
The most effective way to prevent workplace bullying is by fostering a culture in which bullying behaviour is unlikely to thrive. All members of a workplace, including leaders and managers, play a role in preventing and managing bullying at work.
Here are ten tips for preventing bullying in the workplace:
- Create a well-developed and airtight anti bullying policy. The policy should clearly define what bullying behaviour is, the employee and employer responsibilities and how bullying will be dealt with. Ensure also that your policy is regularly updated and maintained as necessary.
- Train managers to identify bullying behaviour or the signs of an employee being bullied. Give your managers the tools/skills to have difficult conversations to address bullying behaviour. While a single incident of unreasonable behaviour is not considered workplace bullying, it may have the potential to escalate and should not be ignored.
- Speak to your employees. Proactively communicate standards of expected behaviour. Holding open dialogues can help you identify potential areas of concern.
- Have an open door policy. Be approachable and let employees know you are there to help them.
- Promote productive, respectful working relationships. Create a healthy work culture where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, no one is taken advantage of and everyone works as a team.
- Identify and call bullying behaviours early. For example, make it clear that no racist, sexist or discriminatory jokes will be laughed at or tolerated. Identify and model the behaviours that you need in your team. This will help you to create a work culture based on respect, where bullying is not tolerated.
- Look out for your employees. It is also important to recognise and respond to early warning signs of employees who have been affected by bullying and support them to seek help. Certain employees are more likely to be bullied such as casual employees, new employees, apprentices and people from minority groups.
- Provide regular and respectful feedback. Managers are responsible for monitoring workflow and providing work and performance feedback with the intention of assisting employees to improve performance. Hence, focus on high quality, respectful and regular performance feedback in order to prevent performance management being perceived as bullying.
- Manage workplace stressors and risks. Role conflict and uncertainty may cause bullying behaviours due to the stress it places on employees. Ensure employees understand their roles and have the skills to do their job to minimise the risk of employees’ perceiving difference of opinion or management action as bullying.
- Follow your company’s policy and processes when standards of expected behaviour are not met or when dealing with a bullying complaint. If bullying does occur, it is important to recognise this behaviour and act on it early. Ensure your process is fair and timely as well as compliant with regulations.