Understanding the Silent Workplace Bullying Behaviour

Workplace bullying is “verbal, physical, social or psychological abuse by your employer (or manager), another person or group at work.”

Bullying Behaviour is a Hazard

In our current environment, if we see an exposed electrical lead on the floor or someone not wearing their safety boots into a restricted area, a quick reaction can eliminate the hazard. As education grows, employers become better informed of their obligation to take reasonable steps to prevent bullying and harassment. When the signs of overt bullying are identified such as; attacking or threatening someone in the workplace or pushing and shoving a fellow colleague the appropriate steps are taken to eliminate the bullying behaviour.

The Silent Bully

The silent bully among many of the employees is often the one that goes unnoticed by their peers and unchecked by their superiors involuntarily allowing this hazardous behaviour to leave a person feeling stressed, anxious or depressed. This can ultimately lead to an individual’s inability to work.It is after the damage is done that the employers are questioned on their failure to fulfil their duty to protect their workers.

A silent bully attacks their employee’s confidence through their efforts to demean them. For example they can constantly change their expectations of worker and then identify this as the employee not being able to do their role;  deliberately hold back information, so as to make the task impossible for it to be achieved; isolate them from interactions with fellow colleagues;  ignore them when they speak;  give them pointless tasks that have nothing to do with their job;  and while doing this constantly giving negative feedback on their ability.
Vicarious Liability

As an employer, we are vicariously liable for the actions of our employees whilst they are acting in the course of their employment;  As an employer we are vicariously liable for bullying by their employees asit constitutes a breach of our duty to provide employees with a safe work place. If one of our employee’s is bullying a fellow staff member, the employee and employer would be held jointly liable.

How do we protect our organisation from the Silent Bully?

The silent bully prospers in environments who have superficial harassment and bullying policies;  It is essential that your organisation not only has a clear communicated policy and complaints procedure, but also puts the sensors that will pick up on the non-overt bullying and harassment including:

  1. Training your line management and supervisors on how to deal with a complaint;
  2. Conduct surveys including exit interviews that may identify if there is an issue in an area and also assists monitoring the culture in the organisation;
  3. Train staff on what is acceptable and what is not acceptable – focus on professional conduct that is expected;
  4. Develop reporting and investigations processes that are able to differentiate between misunderstandings and inappropriate conduct;
  5. Take every complaint seriously;

A culture of bullying and harassment in an organisation will result in costs to the organisation due to lower productivity, higher turnover, increases to absenteeism, rise in workers compensation and legal fees.  The cost to the employee is much more and can have a devastating and lasting impact.

If you would like any further information on how to implement systems into your workplace to arm it against your exposure to the costs to your business caused by bullying and harassment please contact Kristen@alliedrisk.com.au

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