Bullying is much less likely to happen in a workplace where colleagues respect and value each other – fact. And as a manager, you can play a major role in developing a positive team culture – both through the behaviours you model and those you expect of your employees. 

What you can do to help:

  • Be alert: Look for risks and signs of bullying through changes in the workplace, for example increased absences, changes in employees’ performance or low staff morale.
  • Identify and act on bullying behaviour early: Responding quickly and effectively will help to maintain a culture where bullying is not tolerated. 
  • Manage workplace stressors and risks: Ensuring your employees understand their roles and have the appropriate skills to do their job helps to reduce issues and conflict that could lead to bullying.
  • Seek training and development: Look for ways you can develop productive and respectful workplace relationships in your role. Read the Joyfoods case study for more information on how training can help prevent workplace bullying.

Dealing with a bullying claim 

Workplace bullying can be reported in a range of ways – by the person experiencing it or by witnesses; in writing or verbally; by telling a supervisor, manager, business owner, their health and safety or union representative, or someone in their HR team.

Keep the following in mind:

  • Act promptly: Respond as soon as possible after becoming aware there is a problem.
  • Treat all matters seriously: All reports should be taken seriously and assessed on their merits and facts.
  • Maintain confidentiality: Details of the matter should only be known by those directly concerned.
  • Ensure procedural fairness: The person accused of bullying behaviour should be treated as innocent unless the allegations are proven to be true. They must be given a chance to respond and explain their version of events.
  • Be neutral: Impartiality towards everyone involved is critical – avoid personal or professional bias.
  • Do not victimise: The person accused of workplace bullying and witnesses should also be protected from victimisation.
  • Support everyone involved: Once a report has been made, everyone involved should be told what support is available, for example employee assistance programs, and allowed a support person to be present at interviews or meetings.
  • Communicate process and outcomes: Everyone involved should be informed of the organisation's process, including how long it will take and what they can expect will happen during and at the end of the process.
  • Keep records: Make notes of who made the report, when and to whom; what is alleged to have happened; what action has been taken and details of any further action required. Keep written records of conversations, meetings and interviews detailing who was present and the agreed outcomes.

Witnessed bullying? 

If you see unreasonable behaviour happening, it's important to step in. As a manager, it's also part of your role to intervene if you're asked to by a member of your team. If someone approaches you directly about bullying behaviour be sure to keep a record of what you did. You should also know how and when it's appropriate to escalate an issue.

If you don’t have a good understanding of how to do this, talk to your HR/occupational health and safety leader about the workplace policies and the procedures in place.

Accused of bullying?

Being accused of bullying can be upsetting and comes as a shock for some people. It’s important to be open to feedback from others, and to be prepared to change your behaviour.

If someone approaches you about your behaviour, try to remain calm. Listen carefully and ask questions if you're unclear about anything that has caused offence or you think there's been a misunderstanding.

Apologise and – here's the most important bit – stop the behaviour that's causing the issue. You might think it's 'only a joke' or that the other person should be able to 'handle it', but the reality is that you're causing offence and distress.

If you believe you're being unfairly accused, you should discuss this with your manager or HR officer. In many cases an informal discussion between you, the person making the allegation and a third party will resolve the issue.

Being accused of bullying can be stressful and may affect your health and wellbeing. Talking to someone confidentially can help. Employee Assistance Programs (if your workplace has one) are a good place to start, or check in with a counsellor or your GP.

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