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Let’s Talk: Workplace bullying

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Conflict management is an often overlooked but crucial skill to business and entrepreneurship. The ability to cultivate and maintain good relations is essential for growth. However, when relationships become tense it is important to have the right tools to ensure that you and your team are able to maintain professionalism and a collegial culture.

This week we discuss workplace bullying: How to deal with negative people and situations at work.

Frances Frey, Director, Think Maven

Businesses must look beneath the surface problem to identify what is driving the behaviour of the individual who is being perceived as a ‘bully’. Characteristics of a ‘bully’ stem from patterns and programming in the personality which form from an early age and may include unresolved trauma. Until these are acknowledged and resolved, only then can positive change start to occur in the workplace as the individual may be likely to repeat their behaviour. Using specialists in coaching or HR can help facilitate an inquiry into the ‘inner world’ of the ‘bully’ can help individuals to ‘reprogram’ a new way of thinking, feeling, and behaving, which can result in positive change.   From here, an Integral approach can be undertaken.This involves reviewing the current vs desired state of the individuals in the business, the culture, behaviours, and the systems and processes whilst recognising how these are all interconnected and play a crucial role in the overall ‘health’ and evolution of the SME.  

Wendy Born, Leadership Specialist, author of Raising Leaders

Sadly bullying remains alive and well in the workplace.  In a 2016 study on bullying and cyberbullying in adulthood and the workplace, they found that 20 per cent of respondents had been bullied or cyberbullied as an adult, with 30 per cent being bullied at work. It takes courage to stand up to a bully, but the good news is that when you can link the behaviour back to your company values you have something on your side – your organisation.  In all cases of bullying, the offender is breaching one or more of the values of your organisation.  It’s important to call out poor behaviour as soon as it occurs, so say something like, “When you behave in that way, I feel uncomfortable because you aren’t living our value of (insert Coy Values here).  Please stop doing so.”  Always remember, the bully is the one doing the wrong thing, so stand up, take a deep breath, be confident and courageous.  

Zoë Routh, Leadership Specialist, author of People Stuff

Dealing with negative behaviour starts with assessing intention and attention. If the individual with the “negative” behaviours has their attention firmly on their own interests, with an intention for something nasty like vengeance, then we need to take immediate action. This involves strong one to one conversations raising awareness about the harmful impact of their behaviour on others and explicit instructions on what is acceptable and what is not, and why. Negative behaviour isn’t always “negative”. Some behaviours, while irksome, can be healthy for a culture. These include naysayers and doubters. Those who say, “hang on a minute – I’m not sure about that” can be playing the Devil’s advocate role. They can stop us from falling prey to group think and blind compliance. It comes back to attention and intention: their intent might be to improve things, and their focus on their teammates. Smart action starts with wise assessment

Monica Watt, Chief Human Resources Officer, ELMO

Whether it’s in the schoolyard or in the workplace, the saddest fact about bullying is that it can be extremely hard to detect and stamp out. 

Leaders need to make sure they are cultivating an environment where people feel they can speak up. This comes by making sure that hierarchical communication patterns don’t form and that all employees, regardless of seniority, feel they can talk to the leaders in a safe and confidential manner.

It’s also a responsibility of leaders to keep track of their people and notice when things change. Having dedicated one on one conversations, employee surveys, performance metrics and means of measurement can help to signal when things are starting to go wrong so intervention can be swift and effective.

Erin Gaffney, Senior Adviser, Employsure

All employers have a duty of care to provide their employees with a safe working environment. Because of this, employers have a responsibility to take all bullying claims seriously, and act quickly and appropriately to stamp it out.

A proactive, rather than a reactive approach, should be taken when addressing bullying claims. Employers need to have in place a bullying and harassment policy that sets out clearly how staff should act in the workplace.

If an employee approaches their employer with a formal bullying complaint, the employer should provide them with a grievance lodgement form so they can record all the details in writing. During their investigation, the employer should speak with the alleged bully and any staff that may have witnessed the alleged actions.

Depending on the size of the business, employers should also consider implementing a bullying and harassment training program for their staff to help them better understand the policy, what to do if they see bullying taking place, and how to avoid future occurrences.


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Ann Wen
Ann is a journalist at Dynamic Business with a background in commercial law and research. She is interested in SME tax law, public policy and Australian innovation.