“The most common example I see is when people are promoted into more senior positions or rewarded for high performance while at the same time behaving in a way that undermines the success, health and wellbeing of other people around them,” says people management specialist Karen Gately.
“Culturally, what employers are saying to their organisation when they do this is, not only is it okay to be a bully but there are some attributes of a bully that are rewarded, that are highly regarded and valued – such as being aggressive or pushy or demanding,” she told HRM.
Gately, an established author and educator, says employers can avoid promoting bulling behaviour by placing equal emphasis on attitude and performance.
“Make behavioural standards a hurdle over which people need to get in order to advance, progress or be rewarded,” she advised. “It’s important to have clarity of what successful behaviour looks like and what you don’t want within the organization – obviously, that includes bullying.”
The Melbourne-based expert says it’s also critical that leaders and individuals are trained to have tough conversations and a no tolerance approach.
“Often bullying isn’t addressed because either the leaders don’t see it or they don’t have the courage or communication skills to address it effectively,” she told HRM. “So HR needs to be coaching leaders and coaching individuals to be more effective in the way they communicate and deal with bullies.”
For Gately, it ultimately comes down cultivating a sense of accountability.
“That means being part of a team which really makes it matter, where if people are bullying that behaviour is addressed,” she told HRM.
“If they are not behaving successfully or if they’re having the impact of bullying but are not intentionally bullying then it’s about helping those individuals in those organizations grow and improve in their approach,” she continued.
According to Gately, unconscious bullying – when employees don’t intentionally target anyone but make co-workers feel victimised anyway – is one of the most common causes of workplace angst.
“Basically, it’s due to a fundamental lack of empathy,” she explained. “Their outcomes are their objectives, they’re not here to make friends, they’re not here to toe around people, they’re here to get the job done without appropriate regard or respect for the fact that their behaviour does impact.
“It’s intimidating, it’s humiliating, it’s embarrassing – all of those things that constitute bullying so that ‘no BS, get on with it, get the job done,’ with a lack of empathy that causes a lot of people to feel bullied.”
When that happens, Gately says it’s an employer’s responsibility to help workers reframe their view.
“It’s about awareness, helping leaders and individuals understand why it matters to have healthy strong relationships built on trust and respect, why they’re part of a larger team and group, why it’s not just about them, why it’s not just about their objectives or opinions.”
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New Zealand has one of the highest rates of workplace bullying in the world with an estimated one in five Kiwis feeling victimised but – according to one industry expert – some employers could actually be breeding workplace bullies.