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Making a Workplace a Safeplace

How to Make a Workplace Feel Like Home
Have you ever worked at a place where you felt as if you were ‘home’?
If you have (and hopefully it’s the place where you currently work), one of the reasons that you’ll feel that way is because there is a spirit of ‘community’ within the workplace. There is a culture where people care about each other and where each and every person is a valued contributor making a difference.
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The Charities Aid Foundation  is an organization that tracks how ‘giving’ communities and countries are throughout the world. They have been creating an annual ranking index for the past 7 years.
The questions they ask revolve around three central themes:

  • In the last 30 days, how much money have you donated to a charity?
  • In the last 30 days, how much time have you volunteered for an organization?
  • In the last 30 days, how many times have you offered support to a person who was obviously in need of assistance, but who did not actually ask you for help?

What would your answers be to those questions?
It’s the last question that I want to focus on with this blog post.

Offering support to people in need in the workplace.

People who offer assistance to those who are the victims of disrespectful, bullying, or harassing behaviour, take on the role as ‘bystanders.’

Who are bystanders?

Bystanders are individuals who observe or witness disrespectful, bullying, or harassing behaviour firsthand, and even include those who are subsequently informed of the behaviour.
This definition encompasses both ‘passive’ bystanders (those who take no action) and ‘active’ bystanders (those who take action to prevent or reduce the harm).

Why are bystander approaches relevant for addressing disrespectful, bullying, or harassing behaviour?

A focus on bystander interventions to address disrespectful, bullying, or harassing behaviour in the workplace is important because targets of this behaviour often respond passively to the conduct. They often avoid the harasser, trivialise the behaviour, or deny it altogether.
This may be because, although targets want the behaviour to end, they must balance this objective with avoiding reprisals by the harasser and maintaining their status and reputation in the work environment.
Therefore, organizational approaches that rely exclusively on individual complaints made by the victims are unlikely to be successful.
Bystander education is aimed at reducing the occurrence of the negative behaviour and, ultimately, eliminating it altogether.
Primary prevention strategies focus on the role of the bystander and how to challenge the negative attitudes, norms, behaviours, and institutional cultures.
The vast majority of existing primary prevention initiatives on bystander intervention rely on one or more of these three streams of action to effect change:

  • Face-to-face education
  • Social marketing and communications
  • Policy and law

There is a small but growing body of evidence that demonstrates supporting bystander intervention strategies can increase the willingness of people to take action, their sense of efficacy in doing so, and their actual participation in bystander behaviour.
Best Practices Strategies for Organizational Bystander Programs
Here are some ideas to assist you in thinking about your workplace and whether these Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Prevention strategies are present, or what it would take to develop and implement them.

Primary Prevention – Training and Education:

  1. Design training to:
  • Increase recognition of disrespectful, bullying, or harassing behaviour
  • Include content which addresses different forms of bystander involvement and challenges myths of disrespectful, bullying, or harassing behaviour
  • Define disrespectful, bullying, or harassing behaviour by focusing on the behaviour, rather than the response
  1. Make social responsibility norms (support for one another) evident in the workplace; acknowledge that bystanders can be individuals or a collective response
  2. Use modeling in training to discuss various options for bystanders to assist
  3. Deliver training to all employees

Secondary Prevention – Reporting and Investigating

  1. Respond and investigate complaints in a timely way
  2. Allow employees to participate in the design of complaint procedures (transparency)
  3. Establish what constitutes disrespectful, bullying, or harassing behaviour in the workplace
  4. Create a workplace environment that allows for reporting of disrespectful, bullying, or harassing behaviour (safe environment)
  5. Give management credit for taking action to encourage reporting (proactive)
  6. Preserve the anonymity of bystanders who disclose (confidential)
  7. Address the risks of victimization to the bystander (zero-retaliation)
  8. Implement appropriate consequences to those who perpetrate the behaviour (accountability)
  9. Provide multiple means of communication for bystanders and victims to disclose information

Tertiary Prevention – Supporting Bystanders

  1. Support bystanders who may have experienced the negative impacts of disrespectful, bullying, or harassing behaviour
  2. Enlist the support of bystanders to assist targets of disrespectful, bullying, or harassing behaviour in the long term
  3. Implement ongoing monitoring and evaluation of bystander strategies

Do you remember my opening question to you?
Have you ever worked at a place where you felt as if you were ‘home’?
These ‘best practice’ suggestions can go a long way in creating this safe workplace we call ‘home’.


About the Author:

Phil Eastwood is a former London Bobby who brings a thirty-five year career in policing to his role as Senior Partner of Fiore Group Training, a recognized leader in training top North American organizations. Phil is lead author of workplace training courses in respectful workplace training, workplace violence employee training, and leadership training seminars.

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