Another day – another headline.
Doesn’t it seem that every time you look at the news, another front-page announcement pops up regarding a person losing their job as a result of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace?
Why now? What is it about the current climate that is producing so many headline stories?
I believe that one of the reasons is as simple as people taking more notice and interest in how they are being treated in the workplace.
They are realising that the proverbial frog is actually boiling – that the Emperor, in fact, has no clothes.
They may have been cognizant of the mistreatment, but they are now finding a voice.
And furthermore, their voice is actually being listened to, which may not have been the case previously.
It’s a shame it took so long, because bullying, harassment, and other forms of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace have a detrimental effect on both individuals and organizations—it is in every employer’s interests to promote a safe and fair working environment.
The current sea of change that we are experiencing will, I hope, reinforce the reasons that we need to tackle this issue. The well-being of every employee should be of primary concern, as well as the impact that negative behaviour has on the culture and morale of the workplace. After all, the behaviour not only affects the direct victims, but also those who witness it.
When I’m hired to work with organizations in delivering respectful workplace training, I’m always interested in examining the very first sentence of the organization’s respectful workplace policy.
This purpose statement represents the organization’s stated rationale for the policy in the first place and often looks like this:
Our organization is committed to building and maintaining a work environment where every employee is able to experience a workplace that is free from harassment, bullying, and other inappropriate behaviour.
While this represents a fine goal for the organization to achieve, my first question to my client revolves around three key words within this purpose statement.
Let me explain. “Commitment,” “building,” and “maintaining” all represent activities. And since I’m not interested in working with an organization that is simply paying lip service to the regulatory, legal, and moral responsibilities by developing and rolling out a policy and thinking that is enough, I want to know what those activities are.
In the federal arbitration case of Labranch vs Treasury Board in 2011, the final words of the arbitrator stated that: “The employer cannot simply invoke a zero-tolerance policy for workplace discrimination and hope for a discrimination-free work environment, yet do nothing to achieve it.”
And that, in essence, is the question that I have for our clients.
How are they demonstrating their commitment, as stated in their policy?
What specific actions are they taking to build and maintain the work environment that they seek?
Has this gotten you thinking about your own workplace?
There have been many studies regarding bullying, harassment, and inappropriate treatment of employees that ask the participants to describe which types of behaviour they have been aware of at work.
Many employees observed a misuse of power or position, verbal insults between individuals, people being undermined by overloading or criticizing them, unfair treatment, overbearing supervision, exclusionary treatment, the spreading of malicious rumours, implying threats to job security, as well as unwelcome sexual advances.
That is quite a list of negative behaviours!
But what about a list of positive workplace behaviours? Because ‘building and maintaining a work environment where every employee is able to experience a workplace that is free from harassment, bullying, and other inappropriate behaviour” is not achieved as a result of simply NOT bullying and harassing people. We have to not only refrain from the negative behaviour, but must also ensure that positive behaviours are exhibited as well.
In some of our workshops, we include an exercise that asks the participants for their suggestions as to how they can improve their workplace experience when it comes to dealing with other employees.
Their answers are not necessarily ground-breaking, in fact they represent a common-sense approach to enhancing workplace relationships and demonstrating civility towards one another.
But that’s always been the problem with common sense, it’s often not very common.
Here is a sampling from a recent workshop of participant’s responses to the question: “How can you improve your respectful workplace?”
- Better communication with each other
- Willingness to understand each other’s differences
- Listening to everyone’s opinions
- Communicating that you believe in supporting a respectful workplace
- Addressing bullying when it is witnessed
- Being proactive with team members in order to better understand them personally
- Setting expectations for members of the team
- Stopping the spread of rumours
- Demonstrating more empathy towards colleagues
- Developing better listening skills
- Addressing conflict when it occurs
- Talking openly to solve problems
- Using respectful language
- Developing the ability to speak up when witnessing inappropriate behaviour, and not getting tacit approval by silence
- Role modelling appropriate behaviour
- Continued education regarding respectful workplace issues
Remember what the arbitrator said: “You cannot simply invoke a zero-tolerance policy for workplace discrimination and hope for a discrimination-free work environment, yet do nothing to achieve it.”
Now, before you rush out and try to change the world straight away, remember what Lao Tzu famously stated: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
What is your first step?