A discussion paper aimed at helping your organisation tackle bullying and harassment by Jackie Forbes
What do the BBC, the Football Association, the Police Federation and the Miami Dolphins all have in common?
Yes, sadly they have all been in the news recently with stories of bullying, harassment and discrimination.
- Could anything similar be happening in your organisation?
- Has bullying or discriminatory behaviour been reported to you or have you seen it yourself?
- Could your company’s reputation be at risk and more importantly is the wellbeing and morale of your staff suffering due to un-tackled incidences of bullying?
Spot It! Stop It!
Why do some companies shy away from dealing with a bullying culture or individual bullies? Is it because unless someone actually experiences being bullied it is hard for him or her to manage as a very serious issue? Of course there are numerous reasons the HR or management population don’t take action and sadly as a consultant and facilitator I occasionally come across companies where there is reluctance to grasp the mettle and get on with it.
A small personal experience of work place bullying….
After a career of being self-employed, 25 years ago I took an employed role as a Personal Assistant within a large pharmaceutical company. I was one of 13 PA’s. (Do you remember the days when someone else did your typing?) As the newbie I was keen to use my freshly developed skills following completion of a top notch Private & Executive Secretarial Diploma and of course I wanted to impress my new bosses.
During a Time Management course attended by all the PAs I was chosen to start a secretarial group, which would meet monthly to share issues and best practice. I was thrilled, the others were not! Looking back it was at this moment I had broken the unwritten hierarchal rule that said the MD’s secretary was top dog because of his status and she should have led the group. I don’t know why I was chosen; but it was the start of something horrible.
One day after sending the third invitation to the PAs’ to attend the first monthly meeting and not getting an answer I turned to the PA beside me and asked if my emails were getting through. With tears in her eyes she told me that our colleagues had decided to boycott me and had done so since I joined the company. The reason was I was not their choice for the job having come in externally. They had wanted an internal applicant. Just three months into my new job I was astounded and so terribly hurt. I learned their perspective was that I was too confident and that it wasn’t fair my bosses took me to offsite meetings to take minutes.
On some level as one of the older people in the group I could rationalise that I shouldn’t take it personally as it was not really about my personality only my circumstances. On the other hand it was all I could think about morning, noon and night and yes, after a while I did break down about it in front of one of my bosses. He handled it well to an extent. He built up my confidence through how he saw my contribution to the department’s work, but the bullying was not dealt with. The boss and the team I served closed ranks around me, as did the PA who sat beside me. I got even better work challenges and lots of positive feedback and was able to function without the need for inclusion or approval from my bullies. I was lucky, the situation and my reaction to it probably only lasted a few months unlike the poor people in the current news stories. For some of them it has gone on for years.
The warning signs:
The verbatim feedback below is real and comes unsolicited from a simple question posed during a series of workshops facilitated by Emerge. The question we asked delegates was,
“What is going well and what isn’t going so well?”.
Take a look at their comments (of which similar were made over a dozen workshops)
- Lack of cooperation between individuals in different functions because they are not allowed to work together
- Personality clashes
- Blame culture due to unreachable targets
- Some of the managers need to change their style
- Two people recently left in a bad state after being bullied by the same manager. It is known he is a bully. One of them didn’t have a new job to go to he just couldn’t take any more
- Our company isn’t always ethically correct
- We feel very little is ever right or good enough
- Conflicting aims
- Blame culture
- Managers know how to manage the business but not people
- Connection between management and shop floor could be improved
- There is sexism and discrimination
Would any of your employees say something similar?
As an HR Professional what do you do next?
The risks of the do nothing approach:
Bullying affects 35% of employees at some stage of their career in the UK and US
It can lead to:
- Stress related illness
- Increased absence
- Loss of good employees
- Loss of loyalty, trust and good will of employees, not just from the victims but from the observers
- Loss of creativity
- Loss of motivation in the workforce
- High risk of litigation and the associated fines
- Getting the problem plastered all over the news!
The benefits of the do something approach
Aside from the moral and ethical obligations of tackling bullying and blame there are other benefits, which include:
- Reduced employee turnover
- Increased levels of trust
- Higher productivity
- Ethical and socially responsible management
- Enhances the wellbeing of employees
- Healthier working environment
- More creativity
- Higher levels of goodwill and motivation
- Respect for the transparency and commitment of the organisation
Emerge’s structured approach to eliminating workplace bullying harassment and discrimination
This is a development journey designed by Emerge to take a systematic approach to educating all levels within the organisation.
Recognising time pressures the training can be delivered as a 60 minute wake up for the Executive team (longer if possible) 90 minutes to half-day sessions for employees along with half to one-day sessions for HR professionals.
Depending on the status of your organisation’s current policies around bullying and harassment it may be prudent to have them reviewed along with the systematic approach the company takes to demonstrating exemplary management of reported cases. For example mediation is not an appropriate approach to tackling bullying.
Whilst the hope is there are only very isolated pockets of bullying in your organisation shining the spotlight on the commitment to tackle it may lead to more reports. HR will no doubt take the brunt of that, so there is a piece regarding being organisationally ready.
It may be appropriate to carry out a workplace survey or there may be elements of the EOS, which will give an indication of the current situation. What other data is giving you signals you may have a problem? Eg exit interviews, feedback from workshops, internal gossip etc
Emerge can produce communication packs for Senior Executives to deliver at Functional Briefings and for the Supervisors and Team Leaders to deliver at their team meetings.
We can also help with visual campaigns for the communication boards
For further information and workshop outlines or just for an informal chat about the climate in your company
Call Jackie Forbes 07961 134741 or Justin Standfield 01329 820580