Sunday, October 23, 2011

Suggestions: Part 2

In Suggestions; Part 1, we defined bullying along a continuum from relatively inappropriate workplace behavior to that which we characterized as serious, repeated, threatening speech and actions; we also suggested that victims, too, range in behavior in terms of their responses to being bullied.

We suggested further that, regardless of the level of bullying, it is incumbent upon employers to recognize the physical, psychological, and professional costs for victims, the potential liability for managers, and the bottom line costs for their own organization; these costs are literally incalculable.

In Part 1 we addressed the need for employers to acknowledge the magnitude of workplace bullying, that they consider the high cost of bullying in terms of human suffering and their own bottom line. We also suggested that employers should be pro-active, adopting a Zero Tolerance stance toward bullying in their workplace. Part of the problem, addressed in Part 1 in the tendency of many organizations to fail to notice bullying behavior—sometimes even when it is brought to their attention by a victim. Finally, Part 1 cautions organizations to be prepared for resistance when they adopt substantial changes that are reflected in new cultural patterns.

We begin Part 2 with a series of admonitions, suggesting that employers pay attention legal issues, employee relationships, training and education, focused anti-bullying Policies and Procedures, and taking a systemic approach to eliminate workplace bullying.

6. The Legal Dimension: Tort Law/NIOSH/OSHA

At this writing, bullying victims have relatively little legal redress unless they can prove that they have been bullied because of their status as members of a protected class (race, creed, color, national origin, ability/disability, age, gender)
Nevertheless, bullying victims who do not belong to this class can try to obtain legal redress by contacting an attorney who will try to prove that the victim suffered serious psychological or physical damage as a result of their workplace experience.

Nevertheless, until the Healthy Workplace Bill is enacted into law in your state, know that, bullying victims do have some recourse to help Note that, as a part of civil law, tort law is designed to help victims win compensation for any lost wages, pain and suffering, medical bills and other related costs if they have been damaged in the workplace. In addition, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) considers bullying as a form of workplace violence, which they define as “any physical assault, threatening behavior or verbal abuse occurring in the work setting.” The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) states that “employers have both a legal duty and a moral obligation to provide a safe workplace. Under the General Duty Clause of OSHA’s act is that employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that is free from recognizable hazards. This duty includes inspecting the workplace to discover and correct any dangerous condition or hazard and to give adequate warning of its existence. Further, this Clause has been interpreted to mean that an employer has a legal obligation to provide a safe workplace.

7. Don’t Tolerate (or Participate in) Apparently “Consensual” Relationships

Although it is true that many people meet the person they eventually marry in the workplace, it is also true that many relationships come to a parting of the ways—sometimes with positive feelings and sometimes with enmity. But whether the individuals in such relationships stay together or not, there remains a real possibility that an apparently consensual relationship between a manager and a subordinate can later be proven to include a bullying component which is likely to cause considerable liability for the organization. Keep in mind that no relationship between people with disparate power can be shown to be truly consensual.

That’s why, whether the couple walks into the sunset together or not, there is a great deal of risk in an employer tolerating romantic relationships between managers and their subordinates. It makes sense for either the manager or the subordinate to move on, either within or outside of the organization.

With workplace bullying being the reality it is, the prudent response is for the employer to take action to end even the perception that the subordinate is being bullied to stay in the relationship.

8. Policy & Procedures

Every organization should have Policies an Procedures that focus on eliminating workplace bullying. In general, most Policies, whether focusing on harassment or discrimination are straightforward boilerplate documents that can be reconfigured for bullying prevention. The place where organizations sometimes err is with their Procedures, which often cavalierly suggest that victims complain to their manager (who may, in fact, be the bully,) with senior officers or with the President. The problem here is that 1) these individuals have intimidatingly high status and 2) that they have scarcely ever been taught how to respond appropriately to a complainant. We suggest, therefore, that there be carefully selected and well-trained employees to whom complainants can report. When possible, employers might choose to have such investigators reflect the organization’s demographics.

Consider this. Bringing a complaint to an authority figure is always somewhat intimidating. Therefore, is the victim takes their complaint to Human Resources or to an investigator whose level in the organization is not too many rungs above theirs, they will be more willing to come forward, especially f the investigator is of the same gender and, possibly, even of the same color/ethnicity. The bottom line for the employer is to discover inappropriate behavior so that they can act to stem the tide before situations get out of hand.

9. Don't Train Some; Educate All

Although "training" and "education" are terms often used interchangeably to describe ways in which employees are taught, they actually imply quite different means and ends. As defined here, training refers to issues and practices that require skills development. A trained person does not need to know the why of something, only the how. If bullying was only about learning the organization's Policies and Procedures, it would be easy to simply to list the five things everyone should do and the five things everyone should not do. If eliminating bullying behavior was that easy, then training would be adequate.

But workplace bullying is not simply learning about the organization’s Policies and Procedures. Bullying is an extraordinarily complex issue that requires--and deserves--in-depth understanding of human behavior, of the whys as well as the hows in the struggle to finally "get it." Preventing abuse of any kind requires that everyone in the workplace develop a keen sense of why this issue is so important for them as well as for the organization. They should expect to be treated with respect and dignity and to respect others in return. Even defining these terms requires explanations, e.g., one person’s respect may be another person’s disrespect, one person’s joke may be another’s insult. Bullying prevention requires employees to develop the ability to exercise judgment, to understand and to act appropriately. It is not common sense. If it was, we would all have it and all use it. If that were the case, then training would be enough.

A comprehensive educational approach teaches employees to discern, to anticipate, to act--because they understand the why’s of behavior. Education encourages insight; it places bullying in cultural and historic context; it helps learners understand the roots of differences in perception between men and women, and between cultures. Finally, education invites active participation and a dedication to continuous learning.

10. Take a Systemic, Systematic Approach

Education, alone, however, cannot eliminate workplace bullying. Only a systemic, systematic approach offers the promise of a reasonable degree of success. For example, such an approach suggests the following:

  • a dedicated investment in time and resources from top management; not only must their investment be clear to everyone, but as champions of change they must model the behaviors they require from everyone in the organization;
  • an equally strong commitment from second-tier and mid-level managers and supervisors whose work necessarily brings them into closer contact with employees as well as with customers, vendors, and contract workers;
  •  a Trust culture that, both formally and informally, treats employees, customers and vendors with respect and dignity, whether on or off site expecting and this treatment from everyone inside and outside of the organization;
  • an infrastructure in place, e.g., well-educated investigators, a policy and complaint procedures that have been disseminated to all, equitable and swift investigations, an educated workforce, and more;
  • recognition that a bully-free environment is an effort without end, requiring a consistent approach and having as its goal continuous, incremental improvement as well as dedication to ongoing excellence; the willingness to deal with sensitive issues, e.g., reprimanding a senior officer, a customer, or a vendor who has been accused of and/or found to be guilty of bullying.
The Big Question . . . and An Answer

What does it cost to create a systemic, systematic approach to ending workplace bullying? The real question is: "What does it cost to do less?"

One cost is acceptance of the status quo and the organization’s potential liability. Another cost is outright cynicism among employees reflected in increasingly dysfunctional behaviors. When employees receive unintended messages from their employers that do not reflect the reality they live every day, their trust level drops, communication declines, anti-social behaviors increase, and everyone loses.

Successful implementation of this approach affords the promise of developing and sustaining a trusting bully-free culture where morale is high, where employees perform to their maximum potential, and where the organization’s reputation among customers and the community is enhanced. In short, the objective is one where everyone wins: employees, employers, and the community.

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