A recent review has found clashing personalities may not be the cause of workplace harassment, which inspires the question – what or who is to blame?

According to the University of South Australia (UniSA), the organisation and its processes, rather than the people in it, could be a more significant contributor to workplace bullying. “Research shows workplace harassment is generally not an issue of personality conflicts but rather a reflection of the whole organisational system,” research leader Dr Michelle Tuckey explained in a March 3 media release.

The UniSA researchers conducted a review of current literature on the subject and found that 85 per cent of studies only collected information from one data source – most commonly the target of the behaviour. “We know a lot about the negative effects of harassment but in order to design better prevention initiatives, we need to discover more about the processes involved in harassment situations, as they play out over time, so that the best intervention points can be identified,” Dr Tuckey explained.

The UniSA study found that up to 12 per cent of employees may be affected by workplace bullying at any one time, which has inspired the researchers to call for further study of the role of the organisation in managing or contributing to workplace harassment. “Research looking into workplace harassment from multiple perspectives, such as witnesses and supervisors, will provide a better understanding of what factors are associated with workplace harassment,” Dr Tuckey said.

The same principle applies to those investigating workplace harassment or bullying within an organisation. For procedural fairness to be afforded to all parties involved, it is important that the investigator is impartial and provides the complainant(s) and respondent(s) the opportunity to participate. Gathering relevant documentation and interviewing witnesses where possible can also provide further evidence to give a workplace investigator a more broad and balanced view.

For this reason it is imperative that organisations ensure anyone conducting an investigation internally receives workplace investigation officer training. Engaging an external provider may also be necessary where an internal investigator is not able to be suitably impartial or does not possess the level of skill or adequate time to undertake a thorough workplace investigation, such as when a matter is highly complex or involves senior management.

Dr Tuckey further noted that many organisations may not be getting the basics right, “Prevention needs to take place at a number of levels. Organisations must have a clear bullying and harassment policy, and clear channels for resolving conflict before it escalates.” Dr Tuckey also believes management should ensure the workplace culture supports an environment free of bullying. This includes providing anti bullying and harassment training to staff at all levels.

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