February 18, 2014

Zero tolerance for bullying in the workplace

Bullying can cause physical and psychological harm to employees and undermine good business. Alex Jenkins of Davidson Trahaire Corpsych suggests ways to create a workplace culture which supports the health and productivity of everyone in the organisation.

Every employer has a legal duty to protect their employees from both physical and psychological harm. This includes harm from bullying, which can affect the emotional, mental and physical health of victims as well as those who witness the behaviour.

Bullying is also bad for business, resulting in higher rates of staff turnover, absenteeism and negatively impacting productivity.

Alex Jenkins, Customer Director at Davidson Trahaire Corpsych, says that a clear and well-implemented policy can help prevent bullying behaviour. It can provide a clear framework around what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace so that inappropriate behaviour can be managed.

“The first step is to ensure that everyone in the organisation knows exactly what’s expected of them,” he says. “Even the smallest business should have a written policy spelling out what we mean when we talk about bullying, and what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behaviours.  Employees should receive training to ensure that they understand the policy and it should then be part of the induction process for everyone who joins the organisation.”

It’s also important to have a clear investigation and grievance process, with guidelines for both the person who raises a concern and the person who’ll be managing it.

“Employees who feel they’re being bullied or treated unfairly need to know what to do and who to approach,” says Jenkins. “Where possible, if employees don’t feel comfortable raising issues directly with their manager, there should be someone who can provide independent and neutral support, such as an Employment Assistance Professional (EAP) or Human Resources manager. Employees should feel confident that a complaint will be taken seriously and that an appropriate person will take the time to understand the allegations.”

Details of every complaint should be documented and may require a formal investigation and appropriate disciplinary action.

“Even the most senior and experienced people can feel confronted by an accusation of bullying so it can be really helpful to have a neutral person in charge of any investigation process and a clear framework for how it should be managed.”

“Leaders have a responsibility to create a zero tolerance culture where all employees can feel comfortable and safe.”

Five ways to reduce or prevent bullying 

  1. Establish clear, written policies and procedures to prevent inappropriate behaviour.
  2. Ensure that everyone in the organisation understands these procedures and exactly what’s expected of them.
  3. Take all complaints seriously and ensure that you understand the precise nature of any allegations.
  4. Where possible, have a neutral person manage and document the investigation process.
  5. Promote a culture of zero tolerance.

More business insights: