Does Your Organization Care About Preventing Bullying? (Part One)
Organizations that are serious about preventing unlawful harassment and discrimination often have policies in place to promote a "respectful workplace." Research has shown us that by promoting respectful treatment of others, many types of harassment will be avoided. This is because harassment and discrimination become more prevalent when the workplace atmosphere provides implicit, or even explicit, permission to behave in inappropriate ways. Often implicit permission to misbehave stems from lax policies, inadequate training on how team members should treat each other, leaders who model inappropriate behavior, and subtle biases in the workplace.
It should then be obvious that if organizations want to set a standard for how employees are treated in the workplace, the expectations should include a prohibition on bullying. But what is bullying? How do you define it? Many team members may have different definitions of what type of behavior crosses the line. Organizations must define the behavior they expect in clear terms, so that all team members understand what is expected. With today's politically charged environment, and the coarseness of social media and other human interactions, definitions and enforcement are critical.
So if organizations must define what type of behavior standard is expected, what should the focus be? For example, what if a leader engages in behaviors that fall within the definitions of the words noted in the graphic above? Have you worked with a leader who will put down others, mock employees, attack ideas and people, try to intimidate others into getting their way, try to dominate a conversation, insult others regularly? Many of us have worked with such a leader. But then we hear people say, "but he/she treats everyone that way, so it is not discrimination." In creating a standard for respectful behavior, the organization must set the bar higher than: "well it's not illegal so it must be okay." A leader who behaves in this way is much more likely to cross the line into unlawful harassment and discrimination, especially if one group of employees seems to bear the brunt of the abusive behavior (gender, religion, ethnicity, age, disability, etc.)
Defining the prohibited behavior in a policy is critical. Employees need to know what type of behavior will lead to consequences. The next blog post will provide ideas and inspiration for what the organizational policy could include.
Other reasons also provide the impetus for defining bullying and disrespectful behavior more clearly. In addition to serving as a guidepost prior to the behavior, policy guidelines provide an employer with the ability to point to the policy when misconduct occurs. Then, workplace complaints about behavior can center around what behavior was expected, and what standards were violated. Performance correction following a violation of the rules can set up clear standards for future behavior. Future blog posts will address other topics related to the issue of bullying and harassment prevention.