If you have experienced or witnessed bullying in the workplace, you are probably already aware of the devastating impact verbal and psychological abuse can have.
All too often, I meet people whose health, wellbeing, engagement or job performance has been impacted by the behaviour of bullies. Just as often I meet people with stories of family or friends being subjected to extraordinarily unfair and inappropriate treatment at work.
Driving bullying from our workplaces will happen when we all make it a priority.
While employers in Australia have a legal obligation to provide a healthy and safe work environment, creating a bully-free workplace requires everyone to do their part.
Leaders play an especially important role in setting the standard and holding people accountable to acceptable standards of conduct. Six things every business leader needs to know about dealing with bullying are:
1. A respectful culture is the key to prevention
Demonstrate and inspire respect, kindness and sensitivity.
Expect every member of your team to act with compassion and give reasonable consideration to how other people feel.
Reward and recognise people who demonstrate sincere regard for their colleagues and the desire to support everyone to succeed.
2. Culture starts from the top
How any leader chooses to behave sets the tone for how others are expected and allowed to conduct themselves. Lead by example by behaving respectfully and demonstrating that bullying is never tolerated.
Set a high standard to which you hold yourself and other people accountable. Exhibit the behaviours you want from others through the decisions you make and actions you take.
3. Action is necessary
Meeting your obligation to provide a healthy and safe work environment requires that you take proactive steps to protect not only your team’s physical safety but also their psychological wellbeing.
Complaints of bullying must be investigated thoroughly and impartially. Appropriate outcomes need to be applied.
4. Consequences are essential
Regardless of any position of power or influence, no one should be allowed to bully other people. It takes discipline and the consistent application of a zero-tolerance policy to drive bullying from an organisation's culture.
If an investigation concludes that a member of your team is guilty of bullying, apply appropriate consequences through disciplinary action.
5. Acting early matters
It can be tempting to sit back and hope the issue will take care of itself. However, unless the bully leaves your business, that is unlikely to happen.
Take steps to address the issue as soon as you become aware of it; at times you’ll be able to nip brewing issues in the bud.
Be responsive and quick to investigate complaints. Avoid the tendency some managers have to dismiss those they perceive as coming from overly sensitive people.
6. Tough love can work
Honesty delivered with respect is critical to building awareness and influencing the behaviour of a bully.
Expect bullies to demonstrate greater regard for others and the ability to regulate their conduct if they want to stay with your business.
Ensure they clearly understand what behaviours are required of them and the consequences of misconduct. Balance this firm approach with compassion and sensitivity.
Express confidence in their ability to change and the support that they will be provided with.
Karen Gately is a leadership and people management specialist, an author and a founder of HR consultancy Ryan Gately.