If an organization has a workplace bullying process which employees can use, the question to ask is does it work? Like any movement of change in society, we must start with awareness; once aware, then effective leadership is required to create the change. You cannot change what you do not acknowledge; you cannot lead without authority. Human resource professionals are often the ‘go-to’ department for workplace bullying complaints, and are often held responsible for handling employee grievances. Overall, across companies and organizations why are only 8% of employees using a formal grievance process?
While there are some stellar HR departments and processes alive and well, this tends to be the exception to the rule. If you are fortunate enough to work at a company where you are allowed to come forward without retribution, you are not asked to wait for months for a resolution and where there is resolution as opposed to someone being transferred to another department to “get rid of the problem” then consider yourself very fortunate to work in such a supportive environment. Many times the HR process isn’t what a target was hoping for and there are many reasons – perhaps this can help to shed some light. And once again, for the HR departments that are dedicated to helping targets cope with and stop workplace bullying – thank you for going above and beyond!
Here are some aspects to consider if things are not quite as you thought they should be:
1. Human resource professionals are often not responsible for protecting the workplace culture, meaning if the culture goes unprotected, they often have their hands tied and they cannot affect true systemic change from where they reside in the company. They are often charged with the responsibility but do not have the total authority to truly stop certain issues from occurring.
2. Many human resource professionals are not trained in dealing with workplace bullying from an organizational management standpoint. This involves not only helping the target with coping skills but also the political skills needed to avoid further harm from bullies who will not change or cannot be held accountable.
3. In addition, many Human Resources wish they could spend more time supporting targets, however, this takes time. Great human resource professionals will be able to assess the situation and be able to refer to support services that work such as third party mediation, therapy and probably the most important – knowing how to politically survive at work while you are going through the going through – stay tuned!
4. If HR does have the workplace bullying coping skills to transfer to employees, then an additional challenge pops up: HR has very little authority over the target’s boss (80% of bullying occurs with one’s boss) in order to support the target by trying to stage a conflict resolution or intervention. Ideally, and systemically, HR should be able to access someone of a higher authority in order to hold accountable those in higher positions of those in HR and the target. If this is not the case (a systemic issue) then without the authority, there is very little if any accountability with someone adversarial.
5. When it comes down to where to put one’s energy, HR does not report to the employees like an elected official would report to their ‘people’. HR has to account for their time spent and (many) companies will not see utilizing time to cope with and stop workplace bullying as an investment. It is often seen as a cost. The great companies and organizations will be proactive and put people before policies.
Did You Know?
6. The organization does not have a workplace bullying policy so it’s not a disciplinary issue, and one cannot hold the bully accountable to an agreed upon standard or code of conduct.
7. Once the case finally gets attention, HR meets both the bully and the target. The bully comes across as capable and charming and the target has been worn down by the exhaustion and might display behavior that is unconvincing, inarticulate, and ‘overly’ emotional. The bully will position the target as ‘weak’ and therefore the target might now be seen as a liability. HR, wanting to move through the case, (might) dismiss the target’s needs altogether.
8. The bully is a high producer and getting rid of the bully seems harder than getting rid of or moving someone who is now appearing ‘less productive’ due to the added stress. Bottom line, the bully stays, gets transferred to another department or the target is transferred against their will as opposed to truly getting to the bottom of reconciliation.
9. Even if someone did have the full authority to deal with workplace bullying and take measures to stop it, most HR departments and managers are not trained to know what to do, systemically (what the organization can do) as well as coaching on coping skills. (For a 1:1 session with Valerie to help you help your organization stop workplace bullying contact us to set up an appointment time). In fairness to HR professionals and mangers, this can be a very difficult thing to manage and it is perfectly normal to say, “wow, I’m not too sure what to do here”. Not knowing is okay, not acknowledging the target has a challenge is not okay.
10. Workplace bullying cases are often drawn out, exhausting and so complex that many HR professionals don’t have the ‘extra’ time, stamina or proper resources to manage the situation effectively. Many HR professionals do care; in fact, some are even being bullied too. Be sure to check out What Employers Can Do in pages 209-222 of Bully Free at Work to help you craft a workplace bullying policy that works.
What’s the bottom line? Many HR professionals and managers write to us all the time asking us what they can do. This can become a very involved and heavy skill set to master. I recommend anyone in leadership to take an interest and acknowledge what is happening – that’s the first step and should be easy for everyone as it has to do with attitude. We are 100% in control of our attitude, however, we are not all 100% aware of what to do. For leaders and HR professionals – feel free to be in touch with us if you know you have a workplace bullying challenge. You may not know exactly what to do, but you do want to do the right thing. Remember, there is never a wrong time to do the right thing.
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Valerie Cade, CSP is a Workplace Bullying Expert, Speaker and Author of "Bully Free at Work: What You Can Do To Stop Workplace Bullying Now!" which has been distributed in over 100 countries worldwide. For presentations and consulting on workplace bullying prevention and respectful workplace implementation, go to http://www.BullyFreeAtWork.com
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