4 ways to tackle workplace bullying today
Bullying has become part of the everyday Australian working experience, with up to half of all Australian workers experiencing workplace bullying during their working life. Bullying has far reaching consequences for everyone involved, from the targets (or victims) of bullying, to bystander witnesses, their managers and the business as a whole. This is a complex and insidious issue that will require a multi-pronged approach.
One essential approach is for each of us to call out bullying behaviour when we see it. In this article I will share 4 actions you can take today to challenge and defuse bullying behaviour in your workplace.
4 steps you can take to call out workplace bullying today
- Discourage the bully
- Comfort and support the target
- Report the behaviour to management
- Persist and follow up your report
Is it bullying?
A Worker is bullied at work when another person repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards the Worker and that unreasonable behaviour creates a risk to health and safety. Bullying can cover behaviours carried out by one or more people, and one or more workers can be the subject of the bullying. For a more detailed examination of what constitutes workplace bullying, check out my blog post Workplace Bullying Defined
Bullying behaviour ranges from subtle (exclusion from meetings or social gatherings) to blatant (name calling, physical assault). How you respond or intervene must therefore be tailored to the specific bullying behaviour happening in your workplace.
As with the bullying behaviour itself, the way you respond a situation can be subtle or overt. As the behaviour escalates so too must your response.
Bullying behaviour ranges from subtle (exclusion from meetings or social gatherings) to blatant (name calling, physical assault). How you respond or intervene must therefore be tailored to the specific bullying behaviour happening in… Click To Tweet
Discourage the bully
Discouraging the bully involves a negative reinforcement of the unreasonable behaviour. This can be as simple as telling the bully to stop, and as serious as formal disciplinary action.
For more subtle bullying behaviours, you may choose to discourage the offender though a combination of positive role modelling (setting a good example), redirecting and having a quiet word with the bully. In cases of name calling, physical assault or intimidation for example, the bully must be counselled or disciplined immediately, and consequences must be meaningful.
Comfort and support the target
No one wants to be the target of bullying behaviour, which can trigger feelings of shame, embarrassment, and loss of self-esteem, anxiety and depression.
If you notice that a worker is the target of a bully at work, have empathy for the target, put yourself in their shoes and think about the help you would like to receive in their position. Reassure them they are not to blame – it is never the victim’s fault. Ask them what steps would make them feel safe and supported at work.
Report the behaviour to management
If you are the target or a bystander, you can and should report the bullying to your manager. Health and Safety at work is everyone’s responsibility under Australian law, and that includes mental health and wellbeing.
For team leaders and managers, it’s ok to ask for help. While bullying is (distressingly) common in Australian workplaces, information on how to manage that behaviour is not always easy to find or implement. Ask for help from your manager, your mentor or an external party. Many large employers have Employee Assistance Programs that provide you with support and advice, and there are many online groups and fora where you can seek help – check out my Facebook Group Resolve Everyday Conflict with Rebecca Carroll-Bell as a starting place.
If you are the target or a bystander, you can and should report the bullying to your manager. Health and Safety at work is everyone’s responsibility under Australian law, and that includes mental health and wellbeing. Click To Tweet
Persist and follow up
It is common for workplaces to act slowly when it comes to allegations of bullying, and sometimes the complaint just sort of goes away, allowing the bully to continue with the unreasonable behaviour. Persist with your complaints, follow up with management, and keep going.
The culture shift starts with us
Bullying has reached epidemic levels in Australian workplaces. It has become part of the fabric of our working lives, and is creating long lasting harm to targets, witnesses and businesses. In most workplaces the culture of bullying has developed over time, and it will take time to change that culture and put an end to bullying at work. The strategies outlined above will begin that shift.