The first article on workplace bullying explained the extraordinary cost it has had on both businesses and our people in the Australian workplace. The article also informed of the changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 that will come into effect as at 1 Jan 2014 to deal with bullying more directly. It then went on to give some practical advice on preventative measures that could be easily put in place to stop acts of bullying occurring.
Quite often at the workshops I have run on bullying awareness, I am asked just what constitutes bullying and then I’m thrown a multitude of examples to give my opinion on.
The parliamentary committee recommended the following definition:
‘Bullying is the repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates risk to health and safety’.
Although defining bullying is important, we must remember it is just the start of gaining the type of awareness and understanding we really need.
We need to change our mindsets from what is and what is not bullying to having open conversations to gain an understanding just how each of us perceive bullying; we need an education process to ensure a common understanding is aligned throughout our workplace; and we need to gain an emotional intelligence so that we see how others may perceive our actions and behaviour.
If a member of your workforce believes they are being bullied, the results that will come from that belief will be the same, reduced productivity, withdrawal, and increase in absenteeism, these results will be regardless if the actual act is seen by the commission as bullying or not. So what does it really matter on how the law sees and rules in a case of bullying when the damage is already done.
The cost to business, notwithstanding sanctions, will be the same for actual cases of bullying as for perceived cases of bullying. It does not matter what any other body such as the commission rule.
So now back to the question what constitutes bullying? We all have differing ideas; some are unreasonable or extreme on both sides of the problem.
Scenario – An employee or employees may take a disliking to the way in which their manager interacts with them, the manager is a little sharp and seems grumpy with the employee/s, some of the requests coming from the manager are soon thought to be unreasonable (bullying). This then starts to affect their performance; all the while their manager is unaware of how their nature is affecting their employee/s. In this scenario we could argue if it is considered bullying or not for quite some time; however the employee/s have still been negatively impacted on. The suggested actions would have resolved this well before any impact and a need to determine if there is a case of bullying to answer.
In this scenario an open conversation with the employee/s may have reviled that the manager is a little sharp or a bit grumpy when they interact with employee/s and an open conversation with the manager may have made them aware of how this is making the employee/s feel.
An education process on a code of conduct, a policy, and procedure would have aligned the actions and behaviours on how both the employees and manager are expected to act and treat one another. Demonstrated values are also very important to the educational process.
An appreciation, understanding and possession of an emotional intelligence would give the manager a better understanding of how they where impacting and given the employee/s an awareness of the pressures that the manager may be under.
Prevention will always be better than a cure, we must be thinking if bullying occurs in our workplace then it is because we have failed to prevent it.
What steps have you put in place and are they enough?
Blog Written by John Hefez. A senior consultant at HR Power, a quality human resources consultancy servicing SME in Brisbane. We believe greater success can be achieved through people, let us show you how.