Creating respectful workplaces that prevent bullying

Workplace bullying can’t be eliminated easily, especially in larger workplaces, but it can be managed and minimised where respect prevails.

Staff-conduct policies and occasional workshops and seminars won’t prevent bullying. It requires a strong workplace culture that fosters respect and trust for employees.

Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, said, ‘Respect is how to treat everyone, not just those you want to impress.’

The creation and preservation of respectful workplaces is a shared responsibility between employers and employees. Still, managers at all levels play a crucial role in setting and maintaining the culture through the behaviours they model and expect of employees.

The World Health Organization defines a respectful workplace as one that:

…encourages trust, responsibility, accountability, mutual respect, open communication and embraces the dignity and diversity of individuals.

According to the Australian Public Service, employees want a respectful workplace where:

  • they know what’s expected of them
  • they’re safe and treated fairly
  • their contribution and skills are recognised and valued
  • they can work in harmony with co-workers
  • their work performance and careers are enhanced through training and support.

Canadian workplace civility advocate and author Sharone Bar-David says that the pendulum is moving away from employees having to fend for themselves at work. Employers must take more responsibility for creating psychologically safe work environments that allow employees to perform at their best.

US workplace incivility researcher and author Christine Porath says the attributes of positive and healthy workplace cultures include:

  • inclusivity, where people feel empowered and supported, enabling them to speak up and contribute to their full potential
  • adaptability and flexibility, where people welcome and seek to introduce change and innovation
  • purpose-driven, where people understand their contribution and how their work contributes to the bigger picture
  • trustful, where people are trusted and empowered to do good work
  • wellness-oriented, where people’s health, safety and well-being are a priority
  • creativity, where innovation is enhanced through people’s creative and proactive behaviours.

The Body Shop founder, Dame Anita Roddick, once said:

The end result of kindness is that it draws people to you.

Organisations are becoming increasingly aware of the wide range of benefits of maintaining respectful workplaces. They include:

  • attracting and retaining the best staff
  • enhanced employee morale and job satisfaction
  • improved teamwork
  • lower absenteeism and turnover
  • increased employee commitment and productivity
  • employees better able to manage conflict and change
  • greater appreciation of people’s uniqueness and differences
  • reduced employee grievances and associated costs
  • greater resourcefulness, creativity and innovation.

Melbourne-based HR consulting company HR Central highlights how employers can maximise workplace productivity through worker well-being. It includes:

  • providing job descriptions that are realistic, relevant and measurable
  • engaging with employees and carefully observing the work environment to identify areas that could be improved or problems that need to be resolved
  • addressing the ‘motivation killer’ — toxic people, abrasive personalities, lack of organisational vision, poor communication systems and autocratic management styles
  • making workers feel more comfortable by trusting them, their input and working styles
  • helping workers relax to help their physical agility, clear their mind and improve their productivity which, in turn, can also lead them to be happier in their work
  • monitoring large workloads through regular work-in-progress meetings to see who’s doing what, who’s away, who’s overloaded and who has free time.

To develop more respectful workplaces where employees are kept safe from bullying and other forms of mistreatment governments, employers and workplace health and safety regulators have an important role to play.

Governments need to provide extra resourcing to the organisations they mandate to regulate workplace bullying as well as other organisations to provide employers, their managers and employees with a wide range of online and other educational media, including teaching, training, storytelling and discussion about organisational values and respectful workplaces and their relationship to organisational success.

Online information and training, however, aren’t enough. Respect needs to be integral to teaching in education systems at every level.

Excerpt from Bullying in Australian (and Other) Workplaces.

Book cover: Bullying in Australian (and Other) Workplaces

Bullying in Australian (and Other) Workplaces by Dr John W. Murphy with Barrie Thomas and Dr Max Liddell is available at leading booksellers worldwide or ask your favourite bookstore.

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