How can employers police workplace bullying?

John Hilton
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Bullying in the workplace has recently been prominent in the headlines in New Zealand.

Anonymous letters in the past two months' editions of Police News have revealed concerns over bullying in the police force.

Furthermore, research this year by Colmar Brunton found over half of all lawyers surveyed said they had suffered some form of bullying in their career, with 21% of lawyers experiencing bullying in the last six months.

Most recently, Worksafe, New Zealand’s primary workplace health and safety regulator, has announced it would only investigate bullying in the workplace if the victim has been diagnosed as being seriously mentally harmed.

This means that a victim of bullying will have wait until a medical specialist has declared them as unlikely to function normally again before Worksafe will intervene, according to Whitehead Group.

“Worksafe has found a quick way to reduce its own stress, and that is to refuse to investigate bullying complaints,” said Max Whitehead of Whitehead Group.

According to Whitehead, over the last four years WorkSafe has been notified of 125 cases of bullying and only investigated 11 of them.

“WorkSafe is a government department responsible for policing workplace bullying; however, it appears to be prepared to ignore its prime responsibility.

“What would happen to our society if NZ Police refused to investigate any crime unless the court had a convicted murderer?”

The senior consultant at VelvetJobs, Joe Flanagan, recently told HRD that the first step to addressing bullying in the workplace is to create a respectful workplace where nasty incidents are not tolerated and where it’s openly acceptable to discuss the topic.

“Regularly consult with workers to create an open environment where they feel comfortable to speak up,” he said.

“Set the standard of acceptable behaviour by creating a code of conduct that provides tangible boundaries for staff on an ongoing basis.”

He added that it’s important to provide regular training for staff on this note.

“This provides a framework to work with in the case of a reported bullying instance,” he said.

“If allegations are made, have the victim identify the nature of the incident. Work with them to ascertain if the nature of the complaint does indeed constitute bullying.”

 

Related stories:
Can you terminate someone for social media conduct?
Can a sarcastic tone of voice be construed as bullying?

 

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