Workplace Bullying. We all agree that the workplace should be free from any activity or behaviour that adversely affects the dignity of people in the workplace and that the working environment should provide all employees the freedom to conduct their work without having to suffer harassment or bullying.
What is harassment or bullying is clearly defined in the codes of practice in this area, but, of course, there are grey areas and blurring of lines and, for example, what may seem like jovial banter and light hearted fun for one employee may not seem so for another.
Indeed, we sometimes see that employees who engaged in light hearted banter and fun, and in some cases, locker talk, for several years together, end up having a falling out and a change of heart about matters.
In conjunction with the Dignity and Respect at Work policy on harassment/bullying in the workplace, employers should consider the following pointers:
- Ensure the policy is included in the induction programme for new staff, including temporary or fixed-term staff.
- Ensure the policy is circulated to all existing staff
- Make it known to all employees that bullying/harassment is a serious matter and will be dealt with promptly and thoroughly investigated.
- Staff should receive training (short briefings).
- Make it known to managers that they should set appropriate standards of behaviour.
- Managers should receive training to understand the importance of a proactive, consistent approach towards the problem.
- Make it clear to staff that they are expected to achieve their work goals and standards, and performance reviews and appraisals, and regular coaching conversations and feedback sessions will be held with them. Where staff are not performing satisfactorily, this does not constitute bullying by the manager when feedback in this regard is provided. The Dignity and Respect at Work policy should include reference to this.
- Provide an independent counselling option for staff and managers.
Handling Issues and Complaints
In conjunction with the above, employers should also consider having several options in place where there is an issue:
Issues should be resolved as early as possible, and in an informal as manner as possible. The employer should consider utilising the following options:
- One to one discussions with each party, then bringing them together. This could be handled by the manager, another manager, HR or a contact person or a designated person. As much as possible should be done using informal means to stop the problem and not to let it escalate.
- A semi-formal facilitation of issues between the parties. As mediation is voluntary, and sometimes the parties will not agree to mediation, there seems little option but to move to a formal investigation where the informal process hasn’t worked. This semi-formal facilitation process, which the company could write into their policy and include on as part of the process of handling complaints, provides a half-way house, and both parties would have to engage in accordance with the company policy.
- Mediation, which is voluntary.
- Formal investigation, if issues persist and a resolution cannot be found, or the issues are so serious or so numerous as to warrant a formal investigation at the outset.
Do Complaints in Writing have to be dealt with Formally?
Sometimes, the first time an employer becomes aware of an issue is when the person puts the complaint in writing.
This does not mean though, because it is in writing, that a formal investigation has to be instituted.
The company’s policy should indicate that the complaint will be dealt with first informally, then by facilitation and other informal means, possibly be mediation and only then by formal means, unless it is so serious that it warrants a formal investigation from the start.
What if the matter is about “Personalities”?
If the matter is more related to “personalities”, some other interventions can be part of the process for resolving issues. For example, comparison reports related to their styles can be used to help the parties understand each other’s style. The Everything DiSC comparison report between two parties can provide valuable insights for each to work through. Maybe they will never be friends but if they can work professionally together that is all that is required. Conflict management tools can also be used to help add address conflict areas.
What if there is no resolution?
Unfortunately, some people just can’t get on. Unfortunately, some people have a predisposition such that they interpret other people’s actions, even when they are appropriate behaviours, in the wrong way and see them as bullying. There may be no resolution in some cases, but clearly a separation of the employees is required where possible.
Clearly if there is ongoing bullying or harassment by a party, the disciplinary procedure needs to be invoked, and it could result in the employee being at risk of losing their job or receiving sanctions such as demotion, formal written warning, etc.
How Can We Help You?
We provide advice and guidance on the proper procedure for conducting Investigations, Hearings and Appeals or we can lead and conduct investigations, hearings and appeals where you may require external, independent, expertise. Click also on Disciplinary/Dismissal Procedures and Bullying Procedures for more information.