Inappropriate behaviour on a regular basis. Sexual harassment and assault. Racism. Bullying. Debbie Francis’ review makes for sobering reading, revealing that Parliament has an entrenched bullying and harassment problem.

Workplace bullying is a serious issue, as the Francis’ 85 recommendations and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s response indicates.

“Parliament, like any other workplace, should be free from bullying and harassment and we need to make improvements,” says Ardern. “At Cabinet and Caucus I have reiterated my expectation that we treat one another with dignity and respect.”

The report is timely, released just as Health Central hosts its ChalkTalks panel discussion tonight on Wellbeing in the Workplace. Collectively, the panel have a lot of expertise on bullying in the workplace.

Associate Professor Bevan Catley from Massey University says there is plenty of research, including the 2018 NZ Workplace Barometer survey, to show that workplace bullying is associated with psychosocial health problems.  Not only are targets of bullying more likely to experience lower self-esteem, anxiety, stress, fatigue and depression, but witnesses report negative effects as well.

The effects of bullying can spill over into organisational outcomes, including wasted time and resources, lost productivity, poor morale and motivation and high staff turnover.

Fonterra’s Terry Buckingham says when there is bullying in the workplace we tend to operate defensively and stop taking risks.

“We stop putting our hand up to do projects and go the extra mile and performance and productivity suffer.”

E tū’s Alastair Duncan says bullying in the workplace can often be symptomatic of workplaces where there is understaffing or an overly directive approach to meeting financial or production targets. He cites the care and support worker sector as a prime example.

Victoria University researcher Alex Beattie says social media can creates new channels for bullying to occur and can amplify its harms.

“While the memory of an in-person putdown or insult can pass, online comments are more permanent, crystallised in code.”

WorkSafe’s Jude Urlich says it’s crucial for a business to create a culture that values people speaking up by having a clear process for people to report concerns and speedy resolution options available. Businesses need to be flexible about how bullying concerns are reported, she says.

Urlich points to WorkSafe’s bullying prevention toolbox as a good place to start. It has practical information for both businesses and workers about what bullying looks like and what to do about it.

As the Francis Review indicates, it’s the culture that ultimately needs to change.

Terry Buckingham agrees.

“At times I think we promote the stop bullying message without promoting the culture or behaviour that we want to see.  We need to start recognising and rewarding the kind of behaviour we want to see.  I think we can do more to change the language – for example, when we see acts of kindness and generosity we should be reinforcing this behaviour with our people and leaders.”

“Ultimately, the focus must be on a systems approach to improve the organisational environment, rather than on individual, isolated initiatives,” says Bevan Catley. See his tips for how businesses can prevent bullying in the workplace and improve the culture.

Six tips to prevent workplace bullying

  • Implement a policy on workplace conduct that promotes diversity and inclusion;
  • Provide clear pathways for reporting;
  • Conduct climate surveys and risk audits with results fedback and acted upon;
  • Training for managers in conflict management, interpersonal communication, negotiation, team building, stress management, and bullying awareness;
  • Training for all employees in understanding workplace bullying dynamics;
  • Introduce initiatives that focus on relieving unreasonable work pressures and other suboptimal work conditions.

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