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Managing bullying in the workplace

Managing bullying in the workplace

By now you may have heard of the report that came out in late May about bullying in the Government’s chambers. According to the report, bullying and harassment are “widespread” and “systemic”.

“The alleged bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and other harmful behaviours that were described to me do not contribute to a healthy and safe workplace in which the dignity and respect of elected Members and staff are consistently maintained.” said Debbie Francis, who conducted the review.

Like Ms Francis said, bullying is harmful to the workplace as a whole. Here are some ideas to stamp bullying out to create a healthier and safer workplace.

How to spot it

Recognising a problem for what it is, is the first step towards solving it.

Workplace bullying can be roughly split into two categories: direct and indirect.

Direct bullying includes things like belittling an individual in a group setting, spreading malicious rumours or lies, or excluding someone from a group or conversation.

Indirect methods are less obvious. They include various ways of undermining an employee’s value or work, like dismissing their opinion, questioning their judgement, or negatively influencing their projects.

The existence of a bully may be seen by a victim’s reluctance to work with a particular individual. Other evidence of a bully may result in the victim taking lots of time off work, increased rates of illness and stress, and general changes to normal behaviour.

It can be hard, especially as the boss, to spot a bully in the workplace. Understandably, people change their behaviour when they engage with you.

Make sure you give employees the tools to report a bully or bullying behaviour. Introducing a Bullying and Harassment Policy and enforcing a Code of Conduct that defines bullying and outlines unacceptable behaviour is a good first step.

You’ve got a bully on your hands. What now?

You’ve just received a report of workplace harassment and bullying on your desk from an employee. What should you do now?

The first step is to figure out whether the claims made are bullying are not. Sometimes the claims can a bit blurry and may not constitute bullying, or conversely, extreme cases may require immediate interim action. If you’ve ascertained that the behaviour is, or may be, bullying, it’s time to act promptly on the accusations.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to take all claims seriously and talk with those involved individually.  Normally this will require adequate notice and the right to a support person or representative.  Keep the claims confidential and respect the reports of bullying and harassment.

Try to ensure an unbiased investigation; either investigate yourself, ask an employee trusted by all in the workplace, or if necessary you may have to engage an external investigator. Listen to the claims of the accuser, and also the response from the accused.

During your process, make sure to inform everyone how long it should take for you to come to a conclusion.

How to deal with the outcome

If the accusation is proven, you must follow the actions set out in your Bullying and Harassment Policy.

If an apology and a commitment to behaviour change isn’t part of your policy, it might be a good time to consider including it.

As an additional step, offer support to the bully too — this may be in the form of a training course on communication, emotional or leadership skills.

With regards to the victim, consider changing work habits or shift times so that the bully and victim have less time together. Also consider any actions you took, or structures that your business has in place, that may have enabled the bullying behaviour.

To save yourself trouble further down the line, taking disciplinary action against the bully may also give you and your business a lot of leverage if the issue flares up again.

If the accusation is not proven, you may find yourself at an awkward crossroads. Tension in the workplace may be at uncomfortable levels.

Much like above, have a discussion about remedies like mediation, counselling, or changing work arrangements with the individuals affected or your employees as a whole.  Even if the accusation is not substantiated, you can take steps to encourage a supportive working environment by reminding everyone of your policy on workplace bullying.

In the unfortunate case that you believe the initial report was made in bad faith, then you may want to take disciplinary action against the accuser, however, this is a difficult process to navigate.

As always, make sure the actions you take are consistent with previous actions or your policy.

The best way to make sure is to get in contact with Employsure, New Zealand’s leading employment relations experts.

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