The coach approach; mentors mitigate bullying risk

Struggling workers may be more likely to complain of unfair treatment, but what can employers do to support and develop workers and also prevent bullying and harassment complaints?

With the recent changes to workplace bullying laws, employees are able to take their bullying and harassment claims directly to the Fair Work Commission. This could be a troubling time for many employers, however, as they find themselves dealing with bullying matters and potentially facing claims of vicarious liability.

The Fair Work Commission defines workplace bullying as repeated and unreasonable behaviour towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety, this risk includes psychological harm as well as physical health and safety. However, the Fair Work Commission’s Anti-bullying Benchbook does state that reasonable management action carried out judiciously does not constitute bullying.

However, if a disgruntled employee takes a complaint about their leader’s management style to the Commission, the employer could become involved in a lengthy and expensive case.

It is therefore important to minimise the risk of employees perceiving themselves as being picked on or treated unfairly. One effective method of doing so is to provide workplace mentoring and to train managers to adopt a coaching approach when dealing with performance matters.

Alongside assisting an employee with performance and development, mentoring programs that involve partnering junior employees with senior staff can help reduce the rates of workplace bullying complaints, by giving the mentee a trusted person to discuss matters with. A mentor can provide valuable insight and possible approaches for dealing with the behaviour, perhaps role playing a discussion with the “bully”.

With this in mind, it is essential to ensure that comprehensive workplace bullying training is provided to all those in a mentoring role.

Organisations may also consider training contact officers, particularly where mentoring may be less appropriate or more difficult to implement. Trained contact officers can provide support and advice to any workers with bullying complaints.