Fighting back: The importance of managing workplace bullying

There are fewer things more detrimental to an organisation than a workplace culture poisoned by bullying.

Despite increasing awareness – and a new set of anti-bullying laws introduced in Australia this year – many companies are still struggling to cope with the problem. Workplace bullying can be an insidious issue and is often hard to detect, but the long-term implications on your staff's morale and productivity is often immense.

Bullying is a serious issue in any level of the organisation, but according to insight from Hogan Assessments, is especially dangerous when it emanates from a business's leaders.

Why bullies reach the top

Hogan's 'Bullying their way to the top' explores the issue of workplace bullying, focusing specifically on why most bullies seem to be perched at the top of the hierarchy – in the form of managers, supervisors and executives. Hogan found that despite the stark differences in context, corporate bullies share many of the common characteristics one might find in the schoolyard.

These include, for instance, a turbulent childhood background, “ruthless ambition”, the ability to rule by fear and exceptionally developed social awareness.

Armed with these traits, it's no wonder why workplace bullies find it so easy to climb the corporate ladder. As such, Hogan recommends companies to reassess their approach when selecting their next leaders and shift their priorities in the search for high potential leadership.

Many organisations are fixated on a status-based definition of leadership, which makes it easy for would-be bullies to manipulate their reputation within the organisation and work their way to the top. Instead, Hogan says, companies should define leadership based on an individual's ability to “build and maintain a high-performing team”.

People management is one of the most important tasks of leadership, and therefore the team building competencies of leadership candidates should be prioritised.

Australia's revamped workplace laws

Whether it comes from the top or the bottom of an organisation, workplace bullying is an issue that needs to be resolved before it can extend its toxic reach within a company. The introduction of new anti-bullying laws in Australia at the start of this year is changing the way bullying is managed, reported and dealt with, and businesses must be aware of the implications.

The new legislation means that any employee who “reasonably” believes they have been bullied at work can now directly submit an appeal to the Fair Work Commission. This body can then enact a range of measures as they see fit, which can include issuing orders for the bully to stop their conduct, for the organisation to review their HR policies or for employees to be provided with workplace training.

Although touted as an efficient, affordable new system to tackle workplace bullying, some businesses have struggled to cope in the early months, with higher than usual volumes of claims a particular problem. As such, there are some steps organisations can take to streamline the process moving forward.

3 steps to managing workplace bullying

1. Have a comprehensive workplace bullying policy in place

Your workplace bullying guidelines should not be restricted to a paragraph or two as part of your wider company policy. Make sure you have a separate policy dedicated solely to bullying in the workplace – what is and isn't acceptable, the steps that will be taken to address it and the potential consequences for offenders.

2. Introduce claims handling procedures

As much as possible, you should encourage your employees to come to you from the start should they wish to raise a bullying issue, instead of heading straight to the Fair Work Commission. This can save huge amounts of time, money and stress for your organisation.

Make sure you have proper standards in place that deal with accepting, handling and resolving bullying cases in an efficient manner.

3. Implement a healthy workplace culture

The most effective way to reduce the impact of bullying in your organisation in the long run is to instil a healthy, safe culture free of resentment and animosity.

Promote a work atmosphere that encourages employees to accept each other's differences and work together towards a common goal.