The “Greyer” Areas of Inappropriate Behaviour

The “Greyer” Areas of Inappropriate Behaviour

Are your people leaders equipped to deal with the “greyer” areas of inappropriate workplace behavior in order to prevent bullying and harassment?

Many of you will be aware that from 1 January 2014 amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 will allow a worker who believes they have been bullied to apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop the bullying.  This provision does not just apply to employees but extends to contractors, subcontractors, labour hire personnel, outworkers, apprentices, trainees and students gaining work experience as well as volunteers and persons engaged in other workplace arrangements.

The Fair Work Commission will be required to commence dealing with an application to stop bullying within 14 days of an application and may make any orders it considers appropriate to stop the bullying, other than an order for payment of a pecuniary penalty.  Before making an order the Fair Work Commission must be satisfied that the worker would otherwise continue to be bullied.  Breaches of an order may lead to penalties of up to $10,200 for an individual or $51,000 for a corporate body.

The new laws follow the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment Report of October 2012, Workplace Bullying, We just want it to stop, (Report).  The Report recognises that workplace bullying is a hidden problem and it is estimated that workplace bullying costs the Australian economy between $6bn and $36bn every year and that a workplace bullying case costs employers an average of $17,000 to $24,000 per claim.

 ‘Workplace Relations and Safety Insight’ – Henry Davis York (July 2013)

What is Bullying?

Workplace Bullying

A new definition of “bullied at work” was introduced into the Act – a worker is “bullied at work” if an individual or group repeatedly behaves unreasonably toward that worker and that behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

There is a range of subtle, insidious behaviour, which may constitute bullying.  This behaviour can be directed at individuals one at a time or a group of individuals and may come from colleagues, staff in other areas as well as from supervisors.


The “Greyer” Areas of Inappropriate Workplace Behaviour

Marana Consulting Group’s experience in facilitating ‘Prevention of Workplace Bullying and Harassment’ training programs with public and private organisations, has identified that it is the “greyer” areas of discrimination that people leaders need more in-depth knowledge, skills and solutions in order to be able to help them prevent inappropriate workplace behavior and confront issues.  One particular question that we are regularly exposed to is:

“What do I do when, I sit down with someone to tell them that their behaviour is inappropriate and they then turn against me accusing me of bullying and harassing them by even having this conversation.” 

In our experience, managers, people leaders and/or supervisors have openly admitted that they have a tendency to stop the conversation and sometimes not even tackle inappropriate behavior in fear of the potential backlash from an employee.

One of the consequences to senior managers/Human Resources staff of not adequately equipping people leaders with the required skills to confront issues at the earliest possible stage is that it makes the process of dealing with escalated issues very hard.  You know that it is nearly impossible to put a ‘price’ on dealing with the emotions involved in the process of dealing with difficult situations.  It’s important that managers, people leaders and supervisors are confident in having conversations related to inappropriate behavior that align with an organisation’s grievance process.

We often say to managers, people leaders and/or supervisors that a “difficult conversation” with someone is, by its very nature, “difficult”.  A “tough situation” with someone is “tough”.  Just because it is “difficult” or “tough” does not mean that you don’t have the conversation.

Tips for Supporting People Leaders to Deal with the “Greyer” Areas of Inappropriate Behaviour in Order to Prevent Bullying and Harassment

  • Facilitate the opportunity for people leaders to thoroughly understand company policies and procedures related to workplace behavior and grievance handling. 
  • Help them clearly see how their role and function fits into the overall picture of dealing with difficult issues and any grievance processes.
  • Allow them the space to ask questions and even ‘vent’ their own emotions in a safe and constructive way related to this topic area.
  • Make sure that people leaders are clear about what is direct discrimination and what can constitute indirect discrimination.
  • Give people leaders the skills to facilitate effective tool-box talks and/or team meetings so that people leaders can translate expected workplace behaviours standards in a way that is easy for their staff to understand in practical terms.
  • Support people leaders in understanding the difference between leadership and management and the “leadership” actions required to manage difficult workplace situations.
  • Provide thorough and comprehensive training in the skills for effectively giving and receiving feedback.  Provide staff with the opportunity to practice the skills of having difficult conversations.
  • Support people leaders with strategies to deal with ‘push-backs’ and ‘objections’ for example, “well, you are picking on and bullying ME”.
  • Support people leaders with practical supervisory and management skills.  More and more people are entering the workplace needing to be ‘coached’ on what is ‘appropriate’ workplace conduct and behaviour.
  • Support staff with skills and strategies to keep calm and effectively manage their emotions.
  • Support people leaders in keeping calm and effectively responding to the comment ‘I’m going to the union.”
  • Be empathetic – this is one of the toughest parts of a people leaders role.

For more information on our services and support for organisations in this topic area call Marana on 02 9439 6040.

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