Workplace bullying in theory and in practice: Can you tell the difference?
Do your employees, managers and leaders have an understanding of what constitutes bullying and harassment at work? Just as importantly, do they know what steps to take if they experience or witness it in the workplace?
According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, a person is bullied at work if:
• a person or group of people repeatedly act unreasonably towards them
• the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.
Knowing what constitutes bullying in theory, and being able to clearly define it and take action about it in the workplace, are two different things, however. This is because the phrase “unreasonable” can be interpreted in many different ways.
One person may feel they are acting in an assertive and authoritative manner, whereas the person on the receiving end of that behaviour may interpret that behaviour to be aggressive. This can lead to grey areas and as a result, if organisations don’t have clear, well-communicated guidelines explaining exactly what bullying is and is not, it can become increasingly challenging to take action when a genuine issue arises.
In others instances, identifying bullying behaviour much more clear-cut. For one former police officer, she says there was no doubting she was isolated, bullied and victimised by certain co-workers at a NSW-based Police Station, after she spoke up about two colleagues who were inappropriately violent towards a member of the public.
The former officer explains that after she disagreed with her two colleagues, who allegedly lied to justify their actions, her workplace became a “toxic” environment. “I’d walk into a room and they’d get up and leave, or I’d walk into a room and they’d just immediately stop talking,” she says. One day, she returned to her desk to find a copy of the force’s policy regarding the protection of internal police complainants. “The suggestion was that I needed protection,” she says. She eventually went on stress leave after making a formal complaint, which she felt was not taken seriously be senior officers, who never identified who was behind the taunting prank. She was ultimately told that her only choice was to continue working at the same police station where she was being bullied, prompting her to resign.
In scenarios like this, there may be alternative processes and strategies the senior leadership team could use to manage both the situation and the outcome more positively. This is not only crucial to create a strong and positive workplace culture, but also due to the potential financial costs that unmanaged issues can have on an employer’s brand, continuity of operations, staff morale and retention and attraction of employees.
It pays to remember that managers and team leaders are responsible, as the custodians of your organisation’s workplace culture, to create a healthy and safe workplace environment. One of the key components of every manager’s role therefore is the ability to actively prevent bullying, harassment and discrimination issues in the workplace – and if these issues do arise, then managers should be able to effectively manage the situation by taking appropriate action.
Many workplaces and leaders and not equipped with the skills and experience required to effectively take on this role, which is why iHR Australia offers a comprehensive full-day program, Custodians of Culture for Managers. The first half of the program covers anti discrimination and bullying training, while part 2 addresses inappropriate workplace behaviour, and the steps that should be taken if and when this behaviour is encountered. Participants explore and apply effective leadership techniques, while learning about three leadership styles that can actually heighten the risk of workplace issues and potential litigation. In the second half of the session, participants gain an understanding of how to approach and conduct conversations to address inappropriate workplace behaviour. They are given the opportunity to practice having difficult conversations with an iHR actor, who assumes various personas that may be encountered in a workplace.