It was a key story in the newspaper. That must be good for business, right? All publicity is good publicity, isn’t it? 

Hmm, if the story is regarding a claim made by a current/former employee about how they have been treated poorly in your workplace, I wouldn’t be thinking that’s a great way to showcase a business. As a business owner, I’d be thinking twice about working with the business, unless I was a reputation crisis manager. 

Stories of this type aren’t unusual – some are later shown to be justified while others are a disgruntled employee seeking revenge on a workplace.

Got a spare $3m?

Such an article appeared in a Central Queensland online newspaper about a prominent local employer, just before Christmas 2016. The claims made by the employee, to the Supreme Court, were about being bullied in the workplace and not receiving sufficient support from the business to stop it. The employee was seeking more than $3m in damages.

But what does it mean?

The term bullying gets tossed around in workplaces and all too often those using the term aren’t aware of what it actually means under the Act. Bullying is:

       repeated, unwanted and unreasonable behaviour

       directed at the same person or a group of people

       not sexual in nature

       creates a risk to health and safety.

Anytime you hear one of your employees using the term “bullying”, it’s imperative you confirm what they mean by it. Often, there is not a proper understanding of its true definition.

Is bullying happening in your workplace?

We don’t like to think this sort of behaviour is happening in our own workplace. We may think that we know what is going on in our business. But that is not always the case. To find out if inappropriate behaviours are playing out at work, ask your staff. Sometimes asking the question can be all that it takes to stop the behaviours.

You have a couple of options available here:

       ask staff face-to-face or in an anonymous survey if they observe or experience harassment or bullying in the workplace. Include the definition in the question so meaning of the terms are clear

       when staff resign or are taking a lot of sick leave, ask them “Why?”. There may be many resolvable answers to this question. Bullying is just one of them. Some people may not want/know how to address the problem so they manage themselves out of the environment.

Once you know if bullying is happening at your workplace, then, you must act. Follow your business’ policy and document everything.

Now, back to that question….

All publicity is good publicity, isn’t it?

No. Will you be attracting the best potential employees if bullying is rife? No. bullying

To minimise the chance of conflict escalating to bullying (and beyond) in your workplace and, consequently having your workplace named unfavourably in public, rightly or wrongly, take a proactive approach to managing workplace behaviour.

The following 5 tips will help your staff understand your expectations around behaviour in the workplace:

1.    during induction, clearly explain the type of behaviour that is acceptable and the behaviour that is not under the Act and also your own business’ code of conduct

2.    have a policy, easily accessible to all staff, about harassment and bullying and outline the responsibilities all have in this area. Separate the responsibilities of the employees, supervisors and management. Specify the consequences if a claim is found to be true

3.    remind the staff about the policy and the expectations around workplace behaviour every year

4.    explain how inappropriate behaviour impacts safety in the workplace

5.    provide your staff with training on how to manage themselves and others if they are subject to inappropriate behaviour. This includes providing them with a process on how to have the initial conversation with their colleague to explain it’s not appropriate. Encourage staff to have a one-on-one conversation initially.

Unless you have a spare $3m and your business can cope with the damage to its reputation, and most likely your personal reputation too, when alleged workplace bullying is made public, be proactive and take action now to ensure we won’t be reading about your or your business next.

Andrea (166 Posts)

Andrea Doyle MHRM, Accredited Mediator – NMAS
Workplace Mediator, Conflict Manager
Author, Presenter

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