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How to ensure workplace bullying doesn’t occur in your business

Boss threatening to her employee

Chances are if you’re the owner of an SME, you don’t have a large corporate office or big team. You may not even have separate departments, which means that your small number of staff has to work closely with each other on various tasks to keep the business running.

As a result, conflicts in the workplace – such as workplace bullying – can be catastrophic for the day-to-day operation of your business.

So, what is workplace bullying?

According to the Fair Work Act 2009, workplace bullying refers to repeated, unreasonable behaviour toward a worker by an individual or group of individuals. Workplace bullying includes, but is not limited to, verbal, physical, social or psychological abuse by an employer or employee and can happen in any type of workplace.

Those affected by workplace bullying may become less confident about work, feel more stressed, anxious, and depressed, and lose trust in the workplace, which means their quality of work decreases.

The consequences of workplace bullying not only affect the employee in question, but also your business. By being unaware of, or not taking appropriate action on, workplace bullying, you open the door to negative behaviour in the workplace and create a hostile work environment. The result? Your SME is susceptible to high employee turnover rates and even risk of lawsuits.

Workplace bullying costs Australian businesses between $6 to $36 billion each year when taking into account hidden and lost opportunity costs such as decreased productivity, staff absenteeism, and low morale. So it’s important to take steps to make your business bullying-free and make sure your business isn’t losing out.
Eradicating workplace bullying ensures:

• A healthier workplace environment;
• Happier workers;
• Increased productivity; and
• A much more sustainable long-term business.

Follow these 3 steps to minimise workplace bullying.

1. Educate your employees on appropriate behaviour

The first step is to make sure all of your employees understand what workplace bullying is and what your policies on it are. This can be done by providing relevant documents on protocols including bullying, drug and alcohol use, and social media, for your employees to sign and review periodically. This ensures they understand your culture and your expectations on these issues. It’s about creating a work environment where your employees understand what acceptable and unacceptable behaviour is, plus instilling a mutual understanding and having respect for each other.

2. Adopt an effective HR system

Many SMEs don’t have the capacity to have individual departments, which often means CEOs are across the whole board – we’re the web manager, accountant, media correspondent and HR department, all at once. Without a self-standing HR department, HR issues such as workplace bullying can go unnoticed and unresolved until it’s too late.

Although your SME may not have the capacity for a full HR team, having an effective HR system or software can streamline your company’s HR process and reduce the pressure of managing HR issues alone. An HR system that provides employment contracts, policies, job descriptions and a performance review and management process can make resolving issues such as workplace bullying easier and eradicate any ambiguity around employee rights, which gives you more time to focus on developing the business.

3. Have a process for responding to concerns

Your employees should feel comfortable enough to report bullying. Many employees don’t report workplace bullying because they’re afraid of the consequences – some stay silent and take time off, or grin and bear it while enduring symptoms of stress, insomnia, anxiety, and depression. Others leave their job. And, in the worst cases, some end up taking their own lives.

A known and comprehensive process for employees to document or raise workplace concerns without the fear of negative consequences such as losing their job or being subject to ridicule is an effective way to prevent workplace bullying and stop it early. Let them know that it is within their right to seek external advice from places such as the Fair Work Ombudsman without it being held against them.

About the author:

This article was written by Mikki Silverman, CEO of DiffuzeHR. DiffuzeHR is transforming the way SMEs approach HR by giving you access to an easy-to-use cloud-based platform that reduces takes the pain out of managing your HR