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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Bullying

Some workplace roles involve managing potentially or actual heightened or volatile situations on a regular basis. 

Circumstances can arise when behaviours extend past ‘difficult’ and into challenging conduct which requires more sophisticated skill sets in order to positively respond and manage. Unfortunately, managing situations that involve elevated emotions and potential physical harm in workplaces is increasing.

Challenging behaviour can be described as ‘those behaviours that threaten the quality of life and/or physical safety of an individual or others’.* It sometimes exists on a continuum and may include one or more of the following:

  • open or passive aggression
  • physical or emotional harassment (e.g. verbal abuse or threats, bullying, racism, stalking)
  • refusing to co-operate with authority figures
  • refusing to comply with organisational codes of conduct, policies and procedures
  • theft or property damage.
  • self-harm, including alcohol or drug abuse

* Source

So how do you cope with these types of behaviours, reduce potential harm and restore calm in the workplace?

The key is in developing the skills to respond rather than react.

This is much harder than you might think because like all animals, humans are hard-wired to react in either a ‘fight or flight’ mode in threatening situations. Overriding our instinctive reactions takes skill, practice and commitment. 

Here are our top ‘DOs’ and ‘DON’Ts’ for de-escalating heightened situations in the workplace:

1.  DO stay calm so you can think rationally and use your professional judgement to assess the risks.

2.  DO focus on your communication skills. Use a calm, neutral tone of voice and be very conscious of your language so as not to inflame the situation.

3.  DO listen respectfully to the person. Ask open-ended questions to identify the issues and reply using ‘reflective listening’ skills to show that you are paying attention. Allow the person ‘vent’ and don’t interrupt them.

4.  DO be clear, concise and unemotional about what you are seeking from them. Using simple language, outline the impact of their behaviour(s) on others and the workplace as a whole.  Calmly explain the boundaries for behaviour and the consequences of non-compliance in terms of simple choices.

5.  DON’T be afraid of silences in the conversation. They may feel long and awkward to you but they are giving the other person breathing space and time to think about what you’ve said, reflect on their current situation and make decisions about what they do next.

6.  DO focus on your non-verbal communication skills. These are the most critical skills in a heightened situation – be very conscious of the signals you may be (inadvertently) sending.  In particular, using some eye contact (if culturally appropriate) to communicate during heated situations is vital.

7.  DON’T ever turn your back on someone behaving erratically or aggressively. If possible, try to put some kind of physical barrier (e.g. a desk or chair) between you and the other person.

8.  DO stand at a slight angle away from the other person, rather than facing them head-on which could be construed as confrontational.  

9.  DON’T respond to challenging questions or personal provocations. If the person questions your authority, redirect the conversation to the issue at hand.  

10.  DO respond immediately if you feel physically threatened. Use an open-handed pushback with your hand out at shoulder level in front of you.  Include clear verbal instructions, e.g. ‘Stop! Get back!’

11.  DON’T be a hero and physically intervene unless it is completely unavoidable.

12.  DO de-brief with others involved after the event. It may help you to deal with the stress of what happened, get a better understanding of how the situation unfolded and plan more effectively for the future.

For more information on options to develop skills in managing challenging behaviours for yourself or your teams, please contact us.

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What are the implications for the new bullying legislation for my business?

There has been a great deal of discussion in the media with employer groups and employee advocates concerning the introduction, on 1 January 2014, of new legislation around allegations of bullying in the workplace and the involvement of the Fair Work Commission.

Bullying is about health and safety and is directly related to the obligation of employers to provide a safe work environment. 

Regulators, such as Workcover NSW, have the responsibility for investigating and prosecuting bullying complaints as part of a breach of health and safety legislation.

What is new however, is that starting this year, an eligible employee who reasonably believes that he or she has been bullied at work may now, for a $65.50 fee, apply directly to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for an order to stop the workplace bullying. 

Most workplace relations commentators, and in fact the President of the Fair Work Commission Iain Ross,  are envisaging a significant number of  bullying complaints to be lodged as a result of the new provisions.  The potential for flow on costs to organisations is enormous.

What is bullying?

Workplace bullying occurs when a person or a group of people repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker or a group of workers and the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety


What do you need to do?

The first thing to do is to ensure you have effective policies in place around bullying behavior.  Review and confirm that they clearly identify expectations in the workplace and also the process for staff to follow in the event of bullying conduct.

However, having good policies is only part of the solution in preventing these types of costly allegations and complaints for your organisation.

Equally as critical is  

  • Ensuring the policies are implemented effectively
  • educating your teams and
  • developing your teams to identify indicators of bullying, investigate and then manage complaints

Quality training around key policies is critical at the induction phase and supported by regular follow up programs in the following areas:

  • The organisational bullying policy and related documents
  • Developing skills to respond quickly and appropriately when a complaint is lodged or bullying behavior is identified
  • Investigation skills
  • Communication skills
  • Management skills during an investigation and post incident.

Training and developing your teams will build resilience and a positive culture in your organisation.

If you would like assistance in developing an appropriate bullying policy or to discuss training and development for  your staff from a team that has experience managing  this issue, please contact us.

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