Bullying and harassment on the workplace

Bullying and harassment in the workplace

Address the problem or the cause?


A high-profile business organisation recently conducted a seminar on bullying and harassment in the workplace; what bullying really means, workplace rights, making claims, strategies to reduce the occurrence and the like.

It immediately occurred to me that surely, this is tackling the problem from the wrong end. Why does bullying and harassment occur in the first place? The fact that it does occur is clearly evidence of a poor workplace culture. And whose issue is this? Management, every time! 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, after a period 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 very strong pointers as to the likelihood of that person being a “fit” with the team.

So, this gets to a deeper point still – the values of the organisation. Establishing the values (those 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 Rhythm 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”. This makes a lot of sense; that new team member will, in fact, completely change the dynamics of the team. The article proposed that all members accept this and work from the outset, at discovering how the team, as a whole, will benefit from the inclusion of the new player.

The article went on to suggest various ways that the team could embrace the new player so that those benefits could be achieved and that the team could progress harmoniously, collaboratively and with renewed vigour and enthusiasm. In my working life, I have never found a situation where a person leaving the business (no matter how big the shoes seemed to be filled) did not present an opportunity for the new arrival to contribute their own expertise and experience so that the business gained a benefit.


His suggestions included, in part:

“1) 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.

2) 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.

3) Dos and Don'ts to improve communication: Everyone has communication triggers. Knowing each other's communication preferences enhances our discussions and working sessions together.

4) 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.”

In this way, the team also grows and its contribution to the business is further enhanced. If this is developed throughout the business, all teams welcome new people and a positive workplace culture is developed as a consequence. A positive workplace culture delivers a contributing environment and bullying and harassment do not come into play.

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 swiftly and surely.
Continue to assist teams retain a positive approach to their work and communications.
Continually review team performances, assist them with overcoming 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.

With strong values, mutual trust throughout the business, respect as a foundation and a truly collaborative culture, bullying and harassment should never be an issue.