Rolf Howard, Managing Partner, Owen Hodge Lawyers, looks at some of the different communication systems and strategies businesses can put in place to discourage bullying in the workplace.
Workplace bullying is more than simply a conflict between employees – it can be a systemic problem that arises in the context of a poor workplace culture. Workplace bullying is best dealt with by taking steps to prevent it from occurring. If left untreated, workplace bullying can undermine individuals’ wellbeing, workplace relationships, and become a risk to health and safety. All members of a workplace, from employees to managers, play a role in preventing and discouraging bullying at work.
Bullying in the workplace has a significant effect on those directly experiencing or witnessing the bullying, as well as their families, work team and organisation. Employers have a clear legal obligation under Work Health & Safety Legislation to eliminate risks associated with workplace bullying.
Below are some tried and true communication strategies and policies to help eliminate bullying in the workplace. Workplace bullying is an issue that needs to be addressed by everyone within the organisation – from leaders to managers to employees.
Review policies and procedures – do the policies and procedures that are currently in place address respect and expected interactions within the workplace? If they don’t, it is best to put in some formal guidelines and circulate this amongst your employees.
Address complaints in a fair manner – it is important to implement a standard investigation process to ensure that each incident is evaluated fairly, and to be cautious in making exceptions for any internal or external individual who has been accused of bullying.
Provide easily accessible support channels – implement a clear method that doesn’t have any adverse implications for employees that report bullying within the workplace.
Managers & Supervisors
Address concerns and all forms of aggression – it is crucial to respectfully attend to all employee concerns whenever they occur, and when necessary follow through on progressive discipline.
Keep your ear to the ground – listen to employee concerns both formally and informally. As a manager, you are closer to the employees than the senior level, so be aware of sudden shifts in attitude and changes in behaviour.
Do as you say – it is important to treat your employees respectfully, and to encourage respectful interactions at all times through communication channels. Managers and supervisors set the overall tone for workplace behaviour, and your employees are watching for behavioural cues and how to act.
Arrange training – providing ongoing training on respectful workplace practices, and ensure that all employees (including managers and executives) attend. Simply having employees acknowledge policies can sometimes prove to be insufficient – and attending training sessions can improve communication and reporting between all.
Know your rights – understand that the first step in fixing a culture of workplace bullying starts with you. It is important to be aware of how you are being treated and perceived, and any factors or changes that could explain it. For example, if you feel that you are being treated poorly, have you brought this to the appropriate individuals attention?
Communicate – it is important to be open with communication not only to managers but also other employees. If you believe that you are the target of bullying, it is important to speak to your manager. It is equally as important to say something if you see another employee being targeted with uncivil behaviour – either directly to the person, your supervisor, HR or the leadership team.
Walk the talk – in order to receive respect, you must first give it – and ensure that you are treating others respectfully throughout all communication channels.
It is important to remember that everyone is responsible for creating and maintaining a safe and respectful workplace – bullying can only exist in environments and cultures that tolerate it.
About Rolf Howard
Rolf is Managing Partner of Owen Hodge Lawyers. He has been in the legal practice since 1986 and a partner of Owen Hodge Lawyers since 1992. Rolf focuses on assisting clients to proactively manage legal responsibilities and opportunities to achieve competitive advantage. Rolf concentrates on business planning and formation, directors’ duties, corporate governance, fund raising and business succession. His major interest is to assist business owners and their financial advisers plan and implement strategies to build and exit from successful businesses