Rewards & BenefitsHealth and WellbeingEmpowering employees to stand up against bullying in the workplace

Empowering employees to stand up against bullying in the workplace

Julie Provino, an international HR leader and founder of VeryHR talks about how we can tackle bullying in the workplace through empowerment of employees.

It is undeniable that there has been significant amount of progress legislatively over the last decade to safeguard employees against workplace bullying and harassment. On the surface, we have appeared to agree that such behaviour should not be tolerated. We have even brought in rules and measures. But how effective has any of that really been?

What has actually happened is rather astonishing. There hasn’t been a reduction in harassment and bullying. Instead, businesses have responded by metaphorically brushing any incidents that arise under the carpet. A behaviour that is borne out of fear of their reputation being tarnished should they tackle the issue head on.

The result is the rise of non-disclosure agreements. When the culprit is a powerful boss how do you weigh up the risk to the company as a whole – and the livelihood of many – against the rights of an individual. Non – disclosure agreements have become a way of acknowledging that the complainant has spoken out and they are often compensated for that whilst protecting the company’s reputation.

The problem is, the culprit is not made to acknowledge and suffer the consequences of his/her actions. They then continue to bully and harass others. It then just takes one person to bravely stand up and go public. They don’t even have to be in your company. Your policy of non-disclosure agreements is no longer a clever compromise but a ticking time bomb. Because the courageous actions of one person will encourage others to say #metoo. Others who are currently being harassed or discriminated against by the boss you didn’t remove. So what should you be doing instead? How can a business protect its employees whilst safeguarding its image?

It is all about empowerment. Empowering employees to openly speak up and businesses to take positive action to annihilate non-ethical behaviour. HR’s role is about taking the lead on creating mechanisms for open and safe communication both on a business as usual basis and through wellbeing and safeguarding awareness workshops. It all begins with the realisation that bullying and harassment begin with the word “no” and that “no” is permitted in the workplace. It begins with the idea of mutual respect and commitment. Bad bosses should not be allowed or given the opportunity to continue to lead, regardless of commercial pressure. Positive action should be celebrated and made an example for others.

Alongside creating a culture that is creative, mindful and inspirational rather than one that stifles through the overreliance on policy and legalese businesses need to understand that culture is dynamic, all-encompassing and embraces the good the bad and the ugly. A culture that encourages individuals to not only focus on what’s important to them but to operate in a way that benefits the greater purpose too.

The #metoo phenomenon is quite simply a response to this widespread culture of fear in organisations preventing employees to speak up. This in turn is the undeniable result of organisations not actively listening to employee wellbeing, which is not just about gym memberships and yoga classes. Businesses can truly benefit from empowering wellbeing programs, which increase trust and fellowship by strategically, tactfully and ethically listening to the needs of the workforce and empowering them to take full ownership of what is going on in their professional and personal lives.

I eagerly await the headline, “we fired our CEO due to bullying and harassment”. I will have enormous amount of respect for the company that generates it

Julie Provino is an international HR leader, founder of VeryHR and the author of How to Get What You Want in 7 Weeks.

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