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Building workplace cultures where unsafe behaviour is not tolerated

Wellbeing 14 Dec . min read
Every organisation should have a zero-tolerance to workplace bullying and intimidating behaviour, and no-one should be put in the position where they dread coming to work. Building a positive culture that promotes respect, honesty and openness is an important part of preventing workplace bullying, harassment and discrimination seeding in your workplace.

Bullying at work is recognised as a major problem for the employees and employers alike. The consequences of allowing bullying to survive in a workplace culture are profound, long-lasting and damning. In addition to the effects on individuals’ mental and physical health, bullying can have a serious impact on the efficiency and productivity of the business, and ultimately lead to the loss of talent.

What constitutes bullying can sometimes be difficulty to identify and detect. The line is often far from clear between what is deemed bullying on the one hand and ‘demanding’ management style on the other.

Peter Bell, Deputy CEO at mental health and disability services provider MASH Trust says some of the most damaging bullying are sometimes subtle mind games that can have a profound impact over time.

“You see it in attitudes of exclusion, such as simply not talking to someone. Then there’s implicating people in gossip and innuendo to manipulate someone’s emotions,” he says.

Leeanne Carson-Hughes, Executive General Manager of People and Culture at City Care in Christchurch agrees and says it’s rare to see bullying get physical.

“Most often it’s exclusion from workplace activities, yelling and belittling people and constant nit-picking,” she says.

What is the obligation of the employer in preventing harassment and bullying in the workplace?

Over the past 18 months, allowing bullying to thrive at workplaces has been a criminal act. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s the employer’s responsibility to take steps to ensure that employees are safe and free from bullying, harassment and discrimination at work.

Under New Zealand’s revamped Health and Safety laws, doing nothing to remedy a situation that’s causing mental health issues can make senior managers personally liable for prosecution, and fines or even imprisonment in extreme cases.

Building workplace cultures where unsafe behaviour is not tolerated

There’s a general agreement that disciplinary action is the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. Peter Bell says the hallmarks of a positive working culture is when employees feel safe to raise issues in an environment of open honesty.

“It’s important to provide safe opportunity for people to raise issues, to encourage bringing things forward early rather than waiting until they blow up. Perpetrators often do things behind your back or in secret and exposing them as unacceptable is a powerful step toward eliminating them,” he says.

Establishing a simple and anonymous system for reporting bullying is critical to stamping workplace bullying out, as is acting promptly when an incident is identified.

Carson-Hughes says that it’s important to send a strong message that certain behaviours are not tolerated inside an organisation. And nothing does that better than speed.

“Acting fast is vital. If we uncover a really bad situation, we investigate and at times dismiss quickly.”

Employer and HR checklist

To minimise the risk:

  • Employers leading by example demonstrates what appropriate behaviours and treating others with respect looks like in your workplace.
  • Provide training and information for your people leaders so that they are trained to deal sensitively and appropriately with any complaints.
  • Make sure you have policies against bullying, harassment and discrimination in place, and processes to help to resolve these issues internally.

Chris O’Reilly

Chris co-founded AskYourTeam as a way to make it easier for leaders to ask their teams the most important (and the least-asked) question in business: “How can I help you do your job better?”