Are you doing enough to stamp out workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying

Elsewhere, Forbes.com, put the workplace bullying figure at twice that for American workers.  Despite recent laws being passed such as the Equality Act 2010, which addresses harassment at work, our workers do not feel any more protected.

Bullying exists for many reasons including the fact that we live in an ego driven, fear filled world.  Fear is the domain of the bully and if your workplace has a culture which uses blame or fear to drive performance then you are likely to be a good breeding ground for the bully.

We can do a lot to address workplace bullying, by putting in policies, guidelines and providing welfare lines for our employees to talk confidentially to someone, but this is only addressing things at a symptomatic level. To stamp out bullying we have to address the root cause.

Are your leaders positive role models or objects of fear?

Our leaders set the tone for how an organisation behaves. If we have positive, encouraging leaders, then our staff will follow suit in how they behave. If we have domineering and controlling leaders, then we are likely to find that many of our employees gripes and fears go underground, fearing the consequences of speaking out.

We only need to look at the recent impact of Harvey Weinstein’s long-term sexual harassment of actresses in Hollywood to know that these maverick figures are often known, but are tolerated in an organisation because they are seen as so successful that they are untouchable.

My own experience of bullying started at a very young age. When I started primary school, I stood out as one of the “poorer” children. I remember some of the girls crowding around me poking me and telling me I looked ugly and dirty.

It continued into my first workplace, where I was bullied by a young woman, only a few years older them myself, who felt it was her job to demean and belittle me.

Others would see her behaviour, but look away or keep their head down, feeling relieved that she was singling someone else out at that moment. Over time as I became more confident, I learned how to address these situations and became a strong advocate in addressing workplace bullying wherever I encountered if for myself or others.

My work as a transformation consultant, means I go into organisations to sometimes name the elephant in the room and that can be a maverick or a bully who is wreaking havoc on the workplace.

I remember one board that had invited me in to review a project that was failing, refused to face the obvious issue, which was the failure was due to a bullying project director. It was simply too big an issue for them to grapple with, and they thought it unthinkable to take this person out of the organisation.

There would have been a time, when the same thinking protected Harvey Weinstein. In the end, the project failed at such a spectacular level that the person was removed, but the human cost was unnecessarily high before the leaders chose to act.

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What you can do to address workplace bullying

(1) Instigate a zero-tolerance policy on workplace bullying

It’s not enough to have a well-worded policy on workplace bullying, it needs to be backed up by strong action. Nobody should be immune from the consequences of bullying others.  Communicate it widely and go out of your way to address those that transgress the high standards of behaviour you expect from your leaders and employees.

(2) Give known mavericks opportunities to change their ways

Every organisation has the stalwarts, the dominant players and those that like to get things done their way. Often these are the high performers, especially in the area of sales. Rather than isolate them, bring them into conversations. Explain how much their work has been valued to date, but that the new regime expects their behaviour to change.

Offer them support (even counselling) if their behaviour is due to stress and issues outside of the workplace. Better to convert a bully into a great example of an exemplar leader, then lose talent that is difficult to replace. Of course, for those that refuse to change their ways, be prepared to let them go.

(3) Start the dialogue of why bullying is not wanted in your culture

The best ways to change a culture is to allow people a chance to talk about their experiences and give them opportunities to see new ways of addressing workplace bullying situations.

Encourage meetings and focus groups that allow people to share their experiences and coping techniques with others. This can be as much about coping with stress at work as it can be about bullying.  It will help everyone to find more positive ways of coping.

(4) Support whistle-blowers

If someone does raise an issue, make sure that your HR or welfare line are appropriately trained in how to support someone who has spoken out.

It is very important to maintain confidentiality until the facts are clear and if they are having to face the bully everyday, that they or the bully are removed to give time to establish the best form of action. Doing nothing is never an option.

(5) Be a good example of anti-bullying behaviour

You need to ensure that your own behaviour is above reproach. You can do this by simply being a kind, considerate and respectful leader that values your employees work.

Even if you are having a bad day or are under pressure, you still need to remember that you are a leader first and always act from this place, even if you want to swear or kick the filing cabinet because something has gone wrong. Even if your anger is never intended at anyone else, it could always be interpreted as such, so keep it under wraps and find a more appropriate outlet when you need it.

Remember, workplace bullying is like accepting that everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others. It leads to a power imbalance with will undermine the morale of your workers and lead to the loss of talented and good people.  The cost is always too high, so stamp it out before it gets a hold on your organisation.

Mary McGuire is chartered fellow of Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). Her first book “Coming Home to You” focuses on how to deal with among other things, managing conflict at work and is available on www.findyourjoyfullife.com and on Amazon. She can be contacted at Mary@findyourjoyfullife.com.

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