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Pink Shirt Day – Getting ahead of bullying

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This Pink Shirt Day, we champion a stand against bullying, and the horrific harm that people can suffer at the hands of a bully.

New Zealand workplaces need to be better at guiding organisational culture.  Acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, should be part of induction, training, ongoing discussion and an anti-bullying strategy.  There should be no question that bullying is not tolerated in the workplace.

Unfortunately, from government departments, to trades, professional services, and even in highly unionised workplace environments, many workplaces have a lack of preventative measures in place.

Research tells us about the devastating effects of bullying.  Anyone who has witnessed someone suffer bullying can attest to this.  It ordinarily lowers self-confidence, the individual suffers stress, and mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, a sense of isolation and helplessness.

Witnesses to bullying can also experience ill effects.  Repeated, unreasonable behaviour causing harm can become the cultural norm when it goes unchecked, or there are no apparent consequences for the perpetrators.  This is known as institutional bullying.  Organisations where bullying is rife often suffer with lower productivity, and increased costs from higher turnover and absenteeism.  As with many issues, prevention is preferable to picking up the pieces of such harm, disciplinary investigations, responding to personal grievances and health and safety claims.

At the heart of dealing with bullying is calling out bad behaviour early and in an appropriate way.  Organisations can take the lead on reducing bullying by helping employees understand what they can expect from supervision, as well as feedback regarding performance, role clarity, conduct and relationship issues. Improving an understanding about what may amount to bullying helps an employee know when behaviour strays outside expectations.

Employers can, and should, take proactive steps.  Staff training in interpersonal skills, the ‘hard’ conversations, and managing conflict improves the ability of those in positions of responsibility to provide feedback in a constructive manner, and in a way that is consistent across the organisation.

Preventative steps, can mean that parties reduce the need for intervention, as standards of behaviour are well known, and staff are empowered with the skills to regulate conduct to be consistent with those expectations.  Individuals can self-moderate and bystanders can used shared language that “that’s not ok”.

We encourage employers this Pink Shirt Day, Friday 18 May, to embrace the opportunity to celebrate diversity and take meaningful steps to create an environment where all individuals feel safe, valued, and respected.

Andrea Twaddle

About the Author:

Andrea is an experienced specialist employment lawyer. She advises on contentious and non-contentious employment law issues, including privacy, and health and safety matters. Andrea undertakes complex employment investigations. She is a regular commentator on employment law issues and is frequently sought as a presenter at client and industry seminars, as well as for the provision of advice to other lawyers, professional advisors and leadership teams.