A new approach to stop workplace bullying

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A new approach to stop workplace bullying

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By Kevin Gilmore-Burrell, Empathyse Anti-Bullying Consulting*

It is a common misconception that workplace bullying must occur initially, before it can be stopped. But a new approach allows organisations to make it sure it doesn’t happen at all.

If you follow the usual corporate bullying management policies, the definition of bullying requires someone to repeat it before you can do anything about stopping it. You don’t have to follow those outdated policies, which lead to legal costs to fight claims. All businesses can and should stop bullying before it happens. By stopping bullying before it happens you are complying with your work, health and safety obligations to identify the risk and remove it before it causes injury. There are advantages for your staff and organisation to preventing workplace bullying before it has the potential to cause harm to organisations and staff.

It wasn’t until around 1990 that workplace bullying was recognised by psychologists who identified the actions which cause the psychological harm of what we now call bullying. The definition was later refined to “repeated acts posing a risk to injury” in many of Australia’s workplace safety laws. To separate workplace bullying from lighthearted banter, the need to be repeated was kept. This provides the court with the certainty that the acts were not innocent, at the expense of real bullying, only being stopped after the injury occurs. The reason behind this is to ensure business and the economy prospers while the judicial system is not overworked. However, there is no point using a definition of how to harm someone, if you are trying to stop the harm in the first place.

Australian workplace safety laws also include the defence of what would later be called “reasonable management action”. This exempted performance management and other forms of corrective feedback for underperforming staff. The focus of this exemption is that the action reasonably follows procedures without necessarily considering any risk to the health and safety of employees. The main problem is the unwillingness of some supervisors to take unpleasant actions needed to follow performance management procedures, which can lead to repeated unreasonable acts that can pose a risk to the health and safety of underperformers. This can particularly occur where supervisors are not properly trained or not prepared to make drastic decisions where performance management is needed. By taking the soft way out, they are creating a cycle of bullying instead.

The recent Federal Antibullying legislation and standard Corporate Bullying Management policy was created out of the Senate enquiry called ‘Workplace bullying: we just want it to stop’. The processes created are ideal to ensure organisations follow their bullying management procedures which only touch on stopping the behaviour before it creates a risk. This current system can be used without change to implement new anti-bullying policy designed to prevent the risk of injury due to workplace bullying. The solution is for organisations to implement their own voluntary supplementary anti-bullying policy designed to stop the repeat of negative behaviour by staff and poor management performance practices before they amount to repeated bullying.

The advantages of workplaces free of bullying include lower recruitment costs, less sick leave, fewer workers compensation claims, reduced legal costs, higher task success and improved innovation. This in turn enhances the organisation’s reputation, resulting in increased brand loyalty, shareholder commitment and the attraction of good staff as a preferred employer. By removing the risk of workplace bullying, organisations are complying with their responsibility to identify work, health and safety risks to make the workplace safe.

*Kevin Gilmore-Burrell is a Solicitor with a Law Degree and Master of Business Administration. His 15 years’ experience as a Detective with the AFP shaped his expertise at analysing information and implementing cultural change. His 18 years’ experience as a business Solicitor has seen him creating and implementing relevant policy and employment contracts for organisations. He is currently continuing his academic research for a Master of Philosophy with a view to completing his PhD as a leading contributor to the knowledge on workplace bullying policy. Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Monkey Business.