Bullying in the workplace

8 August 2016

Separates bullying from harassment and will provide some high level tactics that a Human Resources Manager (HRM) may engage to strategically minimise bullying. The essay does not cover the drivers of bullies, why bullying may take place, the effects of bullying nor does it seek to provide a detailed checklist to refer to when bullying is encountered. As prescribed by the Health and Safety in Employment Act (1992), every person in the workplace has a responsibility to create and maintain a safe and secure work environment.

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Often, the ownership of health and safety is part of the Human Resources (HR) portfolio. Having been ‘delegated’ such responsibility, the HRM must develop their competency to ensure that the organisation has effective structures, culture, policies and programmes to ensure legal compliance thereby enhancing the health, safety, well-being and support of employees. The HR function must also create an environment that ensures managers monitor compliance with safety practises and procedures in the organisation (Rudman, 2007).

A competent HRM recognises that stress is a workplace hazard. It is interesting to note that in the Health and Safety in Employment Act (1992) the word ‘stress’ appears just three times, ‘harm’ 121 times and the word ‘bullying’ does not even feature. Much research has gone into establishing the link between bullying contributing to work-related stress though this essay does not investigate that link. Compellingly, bullying is recognised as a significant workplace hazard in New Zealand (Bentley et al, 2009) which affects employee health and, also importantly, business productivity.

While the costs of bullying in New Zealand are unknown, in Australia bullying has been estimated to cost the economy at least $4 billion per annum (Bentley 2013). 114. 350 3 The singular expressions of ‘bullying’ and ‘harassment’ are frequently used interchangeably and can be mistaken to be synonymous. Both expressions are often linked inextricably together, for example in a Bullying and Harassment Policy. Bullying and harassment both involve behaviours which, among other things can harm, intimidate, threaten, victimise, undermine, offend, degradeor humiliate. The University of Sussex delineates the two expressions well: Harassment is linked to Human Rights legislation, specifically the Human Rights Act 1993. Therefore harassment tends to focus on discriminatory aspects such as gender, race, ethnic background, colour, religion, sexual orientation or disability. Harassment may be a single incident or a series of incidents. Bullying is repeated inappropriate behaviour, directly or indirectly, by one or more persons that could be reasonably regarded as undermining an individual’s right to dignity.

It is not explicitly covered in legislation as illegal though this of course does not make it condonable. Workplace bullying can take a number of forms and none are mutually exclusive. It may be verbal, for example name calling, insults, teasing or verbal abuse. It may be physical such as touching, pushing, hitting, (Richards and Freeman, 2010), or damaging property. The possibility of violence, whether it is oral, visual, written or physical is considered a hazard and therefore should be managed accordingly.

The rise of drugs, particularly amphetamine and ‘legal highs,’ can make for potentially volatile situations in the workplace. Violence is at the extreme end of the bullying spectrum and if the assault is with a weapon or creates serious harm to someone this is regarded as criminal behaviour (Sullivan, 2000). Best practice is for any Bullying Policy to include such possibilities so that they are preferably avoided or dealt with effectively if they do occur. Ideally the organisation would have a robust Drug and Alcohol Policy to support and be congruent with the Bullying Policy. 114. 350 4

Bullying may also be covert and this is typically more difficult to distinguish. Covert bullying may include lying and spreading rumours, negative facial or physical gestures, playing jokes to humiliate or embarrass, mimicking, and encouraging others to socially exclude someone. HRM Online (March 2014), a dedicated HR website, reported that in Perth, the Melville City Council are introducing a code of conduct to prohibit negative body language such as shrugging or rolling one’s eyes. While these behaviours may be linked to bullying; the behaviours on their own would unlikely be enough to issue a warning on.

Comparatively, WorkSafe New Zealand ‘Preventing and responding to workplace bullying’ (2014, p7) has a comprehensive list of covert bullying behaviours. The final type of bullying to be reviewed is likely to present a considerable challenge for HRM given rapidly advancing technology. Cyber-bullying is either overt or covert behaviours or actions using digital technologies. Examples include harassment via a mobile phone, setting up a defamatory website or intentionally excluding someone from social networking platforms.

Cyber-bullying can happen at any time, can be in public or in private, and sometimes is only known to the victim and the person bullying. Instant messaging, texting, social network sites have all played a part in the increase of victims as they provide another medium for bullies to target the victim rather than just face to face (Privitera and Campbell, 2009). Martin Cocker, Executive Director of NetSafe, an independent non-profit organisation promoting confident, safe, and responsible use of online technologies says online bullying is getting worse.

“People are seeing that you can sustain an online attack against somebody without a response. There’s no clear action taken against [cyber-bullies], so it’s encouraging them to see that as the vector to release their frustrations. ” (Bay of Plenty Times, March 05, 2014). The interconnectedness of the workplace and, by extension employees, adds another dimension to managing bullying. For example, an employee may bring their personal smart-phone into the workplace, use it in their personal time and make derogatory comments to a colleague about another employee.

Any Internet, Email 114. 350 5 or Mobile Device Policy is unlikely to cover such a scenario in a proactive manner; rather the existing policy will be updated after the event. Arguably this is too late for the victim and the workplace has failed in its responsibility to provide a safe and secure environment. Adding to this, globalisation creating an exposure to different cultures is a potential risk and any multinational company ought to have localised policies to deal with bullying effectively.

The New Zealand Government is proposing legislation to criminalise cyber-bullying behaviour with the Harmful Digital Communications Bill. While not specifically designed for workplace bullying, the purpose of the Bill is to make it easier for authorities to deal with cyber-bullies. The legislation will make it an offence to send or post harmful messages (punishable by a $2000 fine or three months’ jail) and create a specialised enforcement agency to deal with cyber-bullying complaints. For bullying to be deemed as workplace bullying it must be at the place of work and/or in the course of employment.

Largely because of advancing technologies and the ability of employees to engage in flexible work arrangements, this is a rapidly changing field and adds another layer of complexity for the HRM. ‘Course of employment’ includes situations such as remote working, travelling for work-related purposes, off-site work meetings or occasions like team building events or supplier functions. Any policy or procedure that the workplace has needs to be adapted and reflect these changing conditions. As mentioned previously, best practice demands that these policies are proactive and communicated before any situation occurs.

Data from Statistics New Zealand supports Bentley’s (2009) finding that bullying is recognised as a significant workplace hazard. The December Quarter 2012 Survey of Working Life Report found that 11. 3 percent of 1844 respondents had experienced discrimination, harassment, or bullying at work in the previous 12 months. This is up from the previous survey of 1743 respondents in the March Quarter 2008 reporting 114. 350 6 that 9. 8 percent of respondents had experienced the same in the previous 12 months. Intriguingly, the 2008 survey details that females were more likely to report the experience than males (12.6 percent of females compared with 7. 4 percent of males). This presents a strategic opportunity for HRM to plan for and create an environment to encourage male employees to be more forthcoming regarding bullying. The rise from 9. 8 to 11. 3 percent across two surveys is cause for alarm though cannot yet be presented as a trend. The survey is designed to run every three years and the 2015 survey results will be telling. We now have an understanding that bullying is a repetition of destructive targeted behaviours but is not considered criminal behaviour (Sullivan, 2000).

Notably, a one-off incident is not defined as bullying (Wiedmer, 2011). Bullying is not a single episode of rejection, dislike or a mutual argument or disagreement. Performance management or a performance improvement plan by a manager for the employee is not considered as bullying though the employee may deem it so and wish to raise the matter with HR. This is sufficient reason for HR be involved in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of any such plans. Reputational impact is important (Bentley, 2013) as the organisation too can be considered a bully.

Countdown, for example is the focus of a current Commerce Commission investigation for alleged bullying of suppliers. The NZ Wheel Clamp Company was also accused of bullying behaviour after clamping and charging people $100 for parking for under two minutes in a car park. The NZ Herald on 13 March 2014 reported that they have gone into liquidation. Within the community there is unlikely to be any concern, though working for such a company is unlikely to be satisfying and would give rise to major challenges to a HRM in regards to culture.

Conversely, there are ways where a company can strategically and publicly signify its zero tolerance to bullying other than a declaration of such on the corporate website. One action is to embrace Pink Shirt Day as supported by the Mental Health Foundation. Pink Shirt Day is a national campaign aimed to raise awareness about 114. 350 7 the power to prevent bullying and aims to reduce bullying by celebrating diversity and promoting the development of positive relationships. Having a clear concise Bullying Policy is vital as it sets the tone for how the company deals with the issue.

The Policy needs to set out what employees and the employer are responsible for, and how to behave. Atkins (2010) states that a HRM could consider adding in real life examples (with the identifying details removed) into the policy order to make it more ‘real’. The company code of conduct should be linked to the Bullying Policy as should the individual or collective employment agreement and the company values. These will directly influence the company culture and environment particularly if the code of conduct makes it obvious what is acceptable and what is not (Adams and Crawford, 2000).

The Bullying Policy must be up to date, be reviewed regularly and the company must take responsibility for enforcement of the policy. It integral that managers follow the procedures and processes set out in the HR manual when dealing with a sensitive situation as bullying (Needham, 2003). The most effective policies are often drafted in consultation with staff as this increases the sense of ownership. Employees have to read, understand and sign compliance to the policy which ideally includes an overview of bullying incorporating a non-exhaustive list of desired and undesirable behaviours.

Tactically this makes it easier for a HRM to deal with bullying and any potential dismissal as the policy is now a tool. Training the organisation’s leaders in bullying awareness is critical; they must know what it looks like and what to do about it. Prevention is better than cure and the selection process can often avert the issue by hiring the right person. Interviews and screening need to get to the core of the prospective employee; what are their values? This is important as values drive emotions, emotions drive behaviour and behaviour influences the workplace.

From 114. 350 8 this perspective the recruitment, selection and induction processes strongly influence workplace culture. In conclusion, employers are obligated to create a safe and secure working environment for their employees, and take all practicable steps to manage hazards and avoid exposing employees to unnecessary risk of physical injury or psychological harm. Additionally, the Health and Safety Reform Bill aims to increase the personal liability of managers and directors for breaches.

While the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (August 2009) states that it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish workplace bullying from a mere personality clash, bullying is recognised as a human rights issue and is a problem for everyone. Awareness of workplace bullying appears to be emerging (Bentley, 2013) and it is in everyone’s best interest to do as much as they can to support a colleague before bullying becomes entrenched in the organisation (Richards & Freeman, 2010).

HR adds value to the business by recruiting, motivating and retaining talent and building capacity for tomorrow’s goals. The HR function is to plan, organise and advise on how to get the best out of people to deliver business results. Having people agitated by bullying detracts from this aim and therefore reduces the value HR creates. As Needham asserted, courage from those in leadership positions is crucial in creating a bully-free organisation.

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