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How to manage inappropriate behavior in your workplace – bullies aren’t worth protecting - Article Image

How to manage inappropriate behavior in your workplace – bullies aren’t worth protecting


Friday, June 30, 2017

There have been plenty of articles about bullying in our industry and apart from stamping out bullying being the ‘right’ thing to do, it makes good business sense. We see people leave workplaces with great pay and benefits because they won’t work with bullies. When workplaces get a reputation for keeping bullies in the workplace they are less attractive as employers. There’s plenty of evidence of the impact of bullying on productivity, sick leave, retention, productivity and health and safety.

Workplace bullying is defined as repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety. Not all behaviour that makes a person feel upset or undervalued at work is classified as workplace bullying. In Australia, there is national legislation against bullying, and workplace bullying is defined in the Fair Work Act 2009.

Some behaviours that may be classified as workplace bullying, according to the Fair Work Commission include:

- aggressive or intimidating conduct

- belittling or humiliating comments

- spreading malicious rumours

- teasing, practical jokes or 'initiation ceremonies'

- exclusion from work-related events

- unreasonable work expectations, including too much or too little work, or work below or beyond a worker's skill level

- displaying offensive material

- pressure to behave in an inappropriate manner.

A single incident of unreasonable behaviour is not considered to be workplace bullying

However, it’s worthwhile talking to your human resources manager or someone you trust if you feel uncomfortable at any time.

This is a high-pressure industry, but does that justify bullying behavior? How do you choose which employees are ‘allowed’ to behave inappropriately? From our point of view it’s never justified, and there are real costs not only to the person being bullied in terms of health and safety, but to your businesses bottom line.

It’s simply not acceptable to make excuses for people, minimise behavior or ignore it. We hear excuses all the time:

  • - They were being passionate about their point of view
  • - They were misunderstood
  • - I didn’t know about it / No one told me
  • - What can I do?
  • - HR needs to deal with this / Upper Management needs to deal with this
  • - This is a company-wide issue
  • - My hands are tied
  • - I didn’t see it / I didn’t hear it.
  • - They’re just being sensitive
  • - They’re just being a trouble-maker for no reason
  • - I don’t think they meant that, I think they meant that as a compliment – you just took it the wrong way.

If you need help managing someone who you think may be a bully, you may be able to speak with internal Human Resources professionals, your company’s employment lawyers or a HR consultant who can conduct bullying training.

The Fair Work Commission website has information about national bullying legislation. There are also authorities in different states who can help, for example WorkCover in New South Wales, SafeWork in South Australia and WorkSafe in Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

As a recruiter, I see and hear of bullying situations that have been managed well and others where the employer doesn’t do anything. What amazes me is the lack of empathy, lack of sustainable and optimal action, lack of knowledge and lack of best-practice, evidence-based workplace policies and procedures.

Most employees who are bullied just leave the employer. There’s often high turnover at these employers and employees don’t take action for fear of damage to their reputation or reprisals if they do take things forward. For the sake of your employees and business, it’s worthwhile taking a moment to ensure you have practices and policies in place to encourage reporting of inappropriate behavior and management of all parties.