15/11/2013 - 14:59

Addressing the bullying problem

15/11/2013 - 14:59


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Dealing with workplace bullying after the fact is evidence of organisational failure.

Addressing the bullying problem

Bullying in the workplace is a sign of poor workplace culture, and responsibility for dealing with it lies with management.

However workplace seminars on bullying and harassment that address issues such as what bullying really means, workplace rights, making claims, and strategies to reduce bullying are tackling the problem from the wrong end.

The real question is: why does bullying and harassment occur in the first place?

Either the business manager/owner is aware that this is occurring, and is ignoring it, or they are unaware that it is taking place. Either way, they are responsible for ensuring the existence of a positive and collaborative culture.

The root cause can well be within the organisation’s recruitment processes. It has been the long-practised habit to employ people on the basis of their skills and experience alone. It is assumed that if applicants tick these boxes, they will be productive people within the organisation.  

When they find that the new employee simply does not fit, they wonder what went wrong.

However, if they had aligned the applicant’s values with those of the organisation at the start, they may have gained strong pointers as to the likelihood of that person being a ‘fit’ with the team.

Establishing the values (that will stand up even in the most strenuous circumstances) is as vital as any other element of the business. Only after an exhaustive process has been undertaken to ensure these values are the bedrock of the organisation, can it proceed to arranging how it goes about its business.

At this point, it is ready to engage people on the basis of those values – followed by their skills and experience – and to develop a team that is on the same page and pulling in the same direction.

I recently read an article by Patrick Thean of Gazelles Systems in which he presented the proposal that “when you employ a person who is new to the team, you do not have a new team member, you have a new team”.

The article proposed that all members accept this and work from the outset to discover how the team, as a whole, will benefit from the inclusion of the new player.

It went on to suggest ways the team could embrace the new player so those benefits could be achieved and that the team could progress harmoniously, collaboratively and with renewed vigour and enthusiasm.

Learn about each other. There are many ways to learn about each other and allow for team bonding. Learning and appreciating each other’s personal lives helps you to create a foundation of trust.

Use personality profiles to promote teamwork and understanding. Have each team member take a personality survey. This helps us further understand each other’s point of view and approach to discussions and doing the work when we start working together.

Improving communication. Everyone has communication triggers. Knowing each other’s communication preferences enhances our discussions and working sessions together.

Break bread together. Share a meal together. Lunch or dinner, it does not really matter. Relax and get to know each other. Take the time to have personal interest in your new colleague and learn about each other.”

A positive workplace culture delivers an environment where bullying and harassment do not come into play.

Best practice starts at the top, so management needs to: set the ground rules for standards of behaviour and communication, ensure that ‘respect’ is at the heart of core values; unearth sources of toxic culture and eradicate them; help teams retain a positive approach to their work and communications; and continually review team performances, assist them overcome obstacles and acknowledge their successes.

At the core of your business reputation, how it performs financially and how customer expectations are met is the performance of the team or teams. Ensure team members contribute in a positive way and show that contributions are appreciated and the business is well on to its way to success – by any measure.

John Matthew is principal of Switch Directions for Business, which offers a range of coaching and mentoring services to business owners looking to grow their enterprise.


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