When Being a Nice Supervisor Becomes Bullying

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When Being a Nice Supervisor Becomes Bullying

Performance management of underperforming staff is always a difficult task for supervisors. But you must choose your battles wisely. If you threaten disciplinary action and don’t follow through with it, you could leave yourself open to an allegation of bullying. This is particularly true if you persist on disciplining staff when you probably should be terminating their employment under your performance management procedure. The question you should ask yourself at the outset is whether the poor performance is so serious as to reasonably require you to follow your performance management process through to termination. If not, then you probably should have considered alternatives to disciplinary action in the beginning, such as retraining or simplifying the work process. If this course of action could be seen to be unreasonable management action posing a risk to health and safety, then you may not always be protected under the bullying legislation defence of reasonable management action.

There are many reasons why supervisors give under performers too many chances to take corrective action. These include being too nice to take drastic action, lack of experience in dealing with poor performers, lack of performance management training, lack of proper conflict management, resolution, de-escalation or grievance handling skills. In some cases, employment contracts do not support performance management policies which may lead to unfair dismissal of adverse action claims. Proper performance management policy, procedure and employment contracts are easy to fix. However, lack of experience and training will require a new approach to workplace bullying management to give supervisors the emotional awareness and conflict management tools to stop bullying before it happens.

This new approach involves the development of new anti-bullying policy to work in harmony with your existing bullying management policy and ethical culture. Currently, you are required to have a bullying policy to deal with bullying after it occurs. This is enforced through the new anti-bullying legislation which is administered by the Fair Work Commission. The new Safe Work Australia guidelines also provide some guidance to comply with your WHS obligations to produce anti-bullying policy to prevent workplace bullying before it happens. A new Anti-bullying policy should consider preventing peer to peer and supervision bullying which can also result in retaliatory bullying by staff toward their supervisors. For this reason, your new anti-bullying policy should incorporate emotional awareness and conflict resolution processes, integrating your grievance handling, performance management and WHS policies, together with your employment contracts to make sure they all work together.

An effective anti-bullying policy can prevent deliberate bullying relying upon the reasonable management action defence to prevent repeated negative acts which would result in bullying if allowed to be repeated, persistently over time. Training of supervisors in reasonable management action which does not pose a risk to health and safety using emotional awareness and conflict management can help create an ethical culture by providing the necessary skills for positive communicate. Training should also be conducted with all staff in relation to how the new anti-bullying policy integrates with employment contracts, conflict resolution, performance management policy and WHS procedures. Further training for everyone in emotional awareness, and conflict de-escalation is essential to recognise negative behaviour, be aware of the catastrophic effects of bullying injury and learn to deal with conflict appropriately.

Kevin Gilmore-Burrell LLB MBA

© Empathyse ™ Anti-bullying Consulting 2018