Home' HR Monthly : October 2016 Contents 18
Regulation changes have pushed bullying underground, where it continues to fester
inside many workplaces, argues Professor Petrina Coventry FAHRI.
DEALING WITH BULLYING
Stay up to date on your legal and duty-of- care
obligations, including the Fair Work Amendment Act
2012 anti-bullying measures. Register for the one-day
short course ‘Bullying and harrassment’ or have it
delivered in-house in your organisation.
DESPITE INCREASING MEASURES TO COMBAT
workplace harassment, bullies remain entrenched in organisations.
Changes to the law aimed at stamping out the practice, have
instead transformed bullying into an underground, subversive set
of behaviours which often remain unadd ressed.
Unfortunately, anti-bullying policies can actually work to
support perpetrators. Rules that explicitly define bullying create
exemptions, or even permissions, for behaviours that do not meet
the formal standard. Although some perpetrators are no longer
bullying in the narrow sense outlined by policies, their acts of
shunning, scapegoating and ostracism have the same effect.
These insidious behaviours can go undetected for long periods
because they are more difficult to notice or prove. As researchers
Kipling Williams and Steve Nida have argued: “B eing excluded
or ostracised is an invisible form of bullying that doesn’t leave
bruises, and therefore we often underestimate its impact.”
The bruises, cuts and blows are less evident, but the internal
bleeding is real. “Ostracism or exclusion may not leave ex ternal
scars, but it can cause pain that often is deeper and lasts longer
than a physical injury,” says Williams.
This is a costly issue in which no one wins. Individuals
can suffer symptoms akin to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Organisations in which harassment occurs must endure lost time,
absences, workers compensation claims, employee turnover, lack
of productivity and the risk of costly and lengthy law suits as well
as reputational damage.
HIGH ON HOSTILITY
So why does it continue?
First, bullies tend to be very good at office politics, working
upwards and attacking those they consider rivals through
innuendo and social networks. Bullies are often socially savvy,
even charming. Because of this, they are able to abuse co-workers
while receiving positive work evaluations from managers.
Secondly, policies aren’t the panacea they are sometimes
painted. If they exist at all, they are often ignored or ineffective.
A report by corporate training company VitalSmarts showed
only seven per cent of workers know someone who used an
anti-bullying policy in their defence – for the majority, it didn’t
work. Plus, we now know some bullies use policy to craft new and
seemingly licit means of enacting their power.
Thirdly, cases often go unreported, undetected and
unchallenged. This inaction rewards perpetrators and empowers
them to continue behaving in the same way. This is confusing for
the victim, who is stressed, unsu re and can feel isolated in the
workplace, undermining the confidence necessary to report the
issue. Because of this, many opt to take the less confrontational
path – hoping it will go away in time. It usually doesn’t.
SOLUTIONS FOR BULLYING
Challenging workplace bullying takes vigilance, awareness and
courage. So what can you do if colleagues are being shunned and
ostracised by peers or managers?
The first step is not to participate. But it’s not enough to abstain
from being a bully – the onus is on you to take positive steps
against harassment where you witness it. As Australian of the
Year David Morrison famously said, “The standard you walk by
is the standard you accept.”
When you do nothing, you allow psychological attacks to
continue. Silent witnesses bear partial responsibility for the
consequences of bullying and unless the tox ic culture that
facilitates bullying is undone, logic says you could be nex t.
Leaders need to express public and ongoing support for clearly-
worded policies. In doing so, policies begin to shape and inform
the culture of an organisation. It is critical managers understand
bullying’s implications for culture, employee wellbeing and their
own personal liability.
When regulation fails – a dilemma seen most frequently – we
need to depend on individual moral character. Herein lays the
ethical challenge. ‘Character’ is an under-appreciated ethical trait
in executive education programs, but the moral virtues that form a
person’s character are the foundation of ethical leadership.
14/09/2016 4:42 pm
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