A shocking report: Why the workplace bully is winning
A new report examining the costs and consequences of poor workplace behaviour suggests that only 16 per cent of victims believed their situation improved after making a complaint.
In what is believed to be one of the largest analyses of Australian workplaces behaving badly ever undertaken, it is sure to send a shiver down the collective spines of unions, company directors and politicians.
The Australian Institute of Workplace Behaviours (AIWB) has surveyed over 2100 victims of bullying and sexual harassment. The results are damning. Especially on how managers and observers respond to complaints - resulting in higher operating costs for business and emotional misery for those on the receiving end.
Employers are not very good at sifting through petty gripes to uncover endemic issues, according to the AIWB report. It suggests only a tiny fraction (around 2 per cent) of complaints about workplace behaviour are resolved through litigation, leaving a deep river of abusive and bad behaviours handled internally.
It may explain why only one third of people bullied or harassed go to the effort of reporting it.
Online human resources forums in Australia are riddled with war stories from aggrieved victims. However HR practitioners and those bullied are a bit like a devoted audience to the shock jock, as everyone agrees with each other. Getting the issue into the minds and hearts of operational leaders and their staff seems to be a long way off.
Directors face jail for harming an employee. So while they are seldom prosecuted in courts, there is a strong legal framework to scare employers into action.
Workers’ compensation premiums are particularly impacted by psychological claims, as they are notoriously difficult to manage. They are also protracted. They are the most obvious single indicator of a toxic workplace culture, followed by turnover, absenteeism and higher cost of production.
On the positive, greater profit opportunity exist in workplaces that don’t breakdown into a toxic mess. With the positive and negative business metrics so obvious, you would think employers would be all over workplace culture. So why is the sensitive topic of bullying and harassing behaviours ring fenced from effective outcomes?
If the AIWB are even half right and nearly all of bad behaviour complaints don’t make it better for the victim, then this points to the need to look at what steps in the complaints process are failing and how this can this be improved.
Dr John Evans, an expert in organisational culture, was most taken aback by the research that showed only a third of people actually report poor workplace behaviours.
“The AIWB report certainly begs some questions, like: If you were the CEO and found out that only one third of bullying victims went to their managers for help would you be happy with the management team and the culture you have created?
“Would it make you even happier to know that the victims and bystanders feel the organisation helped in only 16% of the cases, or, put another way, they believe that in 84% of the cases your organisation did not help?”
While a fact of life, no win, no fee litigation means there is a financial incentive for the employee to be more “damaged” as this will increase the cost of any settlement. Bosses often look at complaints in the worst-case scenarios. These force the focus onto procedural fairness rather than being outcome-focussed.
Investigations are launched. Statements are taken. Evidence is gathered. Office gossip goes into overdrive. Reputations are damaged.
Then after all that, terms like “allegations cannot be substantiated” are bandied around, often simply because the bullying wasn’t witnessed.
This gives the bully a green light provided they are clever enough to not get caught in the act, through covert and pervasive conduct.
If litigated it would be a critical failure if business didn’t have these sound processes. However, where is the weighing up of risk versus reward for the 98% of complaints that don’t get to trial?
Maybe it is time for gun-shy executives to not act as though every step is headed towards the courts and move to some alternative dispute resolution processes.
Workplace disputes have litigation at their core and have been like this since the turn of last century.
Of course there is power in knowing you have access to skilled lawyers. There is more power in having victims of harassment and bullying be able resolve their concerns and move on.
Threats of dismissals, retribution against complainants, lawyers at fifty paces and huge compo claims are today’s norm. This clouds what could be well-resolved conflicts.
Maybe a new approach will bring justice to many more than 16 per cent of those that have had the chutzpah to make a complaint after being bullied or harassed.
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