According to a recent survey, more than two in three employees experience bullying in the workplace - so what can small business owners do to nip bullying in the bud? Melissa Biggs examines the steps to developing an anti-bullying policy.
Creating and implementing an anti-bullying policy will help to reduce the occurrences of bullying in your workplace and will also ensure that your business has taken sufficient steps in preventing bullying so that you can not be deemed liable for abuse an employee may receive.
An Australian workplace bullying survey conducted by Diversity Council Australia senior consultant Toni Mellington found that as many as 70 per cent of employees were currently being bullied or had been bullied in the past, and 38 per cent indicated that the bullying activity had occurred for over six months.
Step 1: Know what behaviour counts as bullying
Bullying normally manifests as insulting behaviour towards an individual making them feel threatened, taken advantage of or even humiliated.
While bullying is sometimes easy to spot it’s more frequently very subtle, for example assigning an employee a menial work related task or giving incorrect information.
The most common forms of workplace bullying include, verbal abuse, physical violence or public humiliation.
Step 2: Know the causes and impacts
Causes: Bullying in the workplace can occur for many different reasons, some are very difficult to reveal and even understand.
However it is easier to deal with workplace bullying if you do fully understand the reasons behind it.
Common reasons for bullying include, lack of accountability, an existing workplace culture, lack of rules and procedure, and poor working relationships.
Impacts: Bullying in the workplace can have adverse effects not only to the individual being bullied but also to the rest of the workforce.
This can result in a loss of morale and productivity, thus affecting the profits of your business. If a culture of bullying in a workplace exists for extended periods, possible impacts include increased absenteeism, damage to your business reputation and legal action.
According to a recent impact and cost assessment conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission, workplace bullying "costs Australian employers between $6 billion and $36 billion every year when hidden and lost opportunity costs are considered".
Business owners can find themselves liable for the actions of their employees if they have not taken reasonable steps in preventing the bullying, under the Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Act.
Step 3: Identify alleged bullying – and hidden issues
Bullying is often not easy to spot. Frequently people see the behaviour as normal workplace culture, justifying it as ‘friendly banter’ or ‘innocent teasing’.
In most incidences individuals are too frightened to report bullying and are often embarrassed that they have fallen victim to a bully.
As an employer you need to be aware that the typical signs for bullying are inconspicuous and thus you need to be clued up and keep an eye out for the initial indications.
Mellington’s research said: "Workplace bullying can impact on a person from (creating) mild annoyance through to severe psychological, social and economic trauma.
"Previous research has indicated impacts such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, decreased self-confidence, panic attacks, fatigue, eating disorders, post traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal ideation."
Step 4: Take action
As an employer you are responsible for your employee’s welfare at work. It is also in your interest to be aware of and take action to prevent bullying in the workplace.
A mild impact might be a loss of productivity while a major impact could include claims and tribunals. So how do you step up to the challenge?
One of the most effective ways to prevent workplace bullying is to draw up an anti bullying policy and ensure that it is implemented. For an anti bullying policy to be effective, it must be fully understood by staff members.
If the worst-case scenario occurs and your company is taken to a tribunal, you will be in a much better position to defend if you have a solid anti bullying policy and proof that you have taken all the necessary steps.
Step 5: Create an anti-bullying policy
When drawing up an anti bullying policy it is a good idea to include the views and thoughts of your staff members.
This eases the understanding of the policy when it is put in place and also enhances the commitment to implementing it.
Suggestions for an anti-bullying policy:
• A statement to the commitment against bullying.
• A definition of bullying.
• A description and examples of the types of behaviour that can be considered as bullying.
• Descriptions of the procedures that are in place and that will be adhered to if bullying occurs.
• A statement guaranteeing that claims will be taken seriously.
• An assurance that all employees’ claims will be treated fairly and equally.
• A statement that there will be a right to appeal if a claim is deemed unfair.
• Contact details of whom to approach if an employee would like to make a claim.
• Training for managers.
• Information on how the policy is implemented and monitored.
Next steps: Dealing with a claim
If an employee makes a claim it should be dealt with straight away and taken very seriously
When this part of the process is not handled efficiently, you may be liable for the bullying your employee has suffered.
When approached by an employee regarding a claim for workplace bullying you must remain impartial and examine the evidence.
The aim of an informal resolution process is to resolve the issue quickly and effectively through conciliation between the affected parties.
This process can be managed by a suitably skilled and impartial staff member, focused on helping the employees concerned reach an agreement.
Managed well, the informal path can focus on returning staff to work without further interruption.
Employees have the right to lodge a formal complaint regardless, although if they do agree to this step first and do not reach an agreement, then a formal complaint leading to an investigation will have to take place.
The formal complaint procedure is the last resort when no agreed outcome is achievable.
Once the complaint has been lodged both parties should be told of the procedure that will follow and also have their rights and responsibilities explained to them.
An investigation into the alleged bullying will then take place and should be conducted by an independently appointed investigator.
A report on the findings of the investigator should then be presented to the employer and subsequently the parties involved. Both parties should be notified that they can appeal against the findings of the investigation.