Three steps to prevent workplace bullying

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(by PRabha Kutty) 

The RCMP is not unique in its struggles against workplace bullying.  In recent years organisations in both the public and private sectors in Canada and other OECD nations have been attempting to reduce bullying at the workplace with limited success.

The Workplace Bullying report tabled in the Australian Parliament in 2012 indicates that bullying costs the Australian economy between A$6 billion and $36 billion annually. In the U.S. figures of US$200 billion have been quoted.  Various surveys taken in these countries suggest that  on average 35% of employees have been bullied at their workplace.

Most organisations are addressing this important workplace issue by reviewing anti-bullying policies, strengthening their codes of conduct and conducting bullying awareness training.  Whilst such actions are laudable, the available evidence suggests that their effectiveness will be short term and here are the reasons why.

Like all other public sector organisations the RCMP has organisational values and codes of conduct that sets the  high standards of behaviour expected of members in the force.  All officers would have received a copy of these values and codes as part of their induction documentation. 

So if the existence of organisational values and codes of conduct per se would lead to an absence of bullying, then the existing ones would have worked by now.  The reason that they don't work in preventing bullying is because there is no personal, and accountable commitment to them from members of the force at all levels.

So what about training as a preventative measure and would it help bullies to stop their harmful actions?  Jacqueline Power, associate professor of management at the University of Windsor's Odette School of Business, who has researched bullying at the workplace says that sensitivity training is ineffective as bullies do not recognise that what they are doing is wrong.  So what would work?

I would argue that the strategy that is most likely to succeed is one that has the support and involvement of each person in the organisation and is aimed at creating a safe, harmonious and productive work environment.  It involves three key steps.

Policies and procedures

Firstly the preparation of a document that provides everyone in the organisation with a clear understanding as to what constitutes bullying, with everybody given the opportunity to contribute towards it. This would ensure that the views of both managers and other officers are considered when developing this document, and the contents accepted by all.

Public commitment 

The second step and arguably the most important is a very public, and therefore accountable, commitment from each person in the organisation starting with the Commissioner, to prevent bullying and to speak out against it when it occurs.  The Commissioner's commitment is vital as it  signals the importance that they and the organisation places on a safe, and productive workplace.

As Peter Drucker, described as the founder of modern management said "unless commitment is made there are only promises and hopes...but no plans".

The format for the commitment against bullying that I see being adopted is similar to the White Ribbon oath to fight violence against women.  It would be taken by current employees and those wishing to join the RCMP.

there is Targeted policies, codes of conduct and training are important tools in the fight against bullying, but they will be more effective if they are bound to a personal commitment to speak out against bullying at the workplace and to prevent it. 

Crucially a group commitment has the added benefit of placing positive peer pressure on existing and prospective bullies to do the right thing. 

In his book 'Bully In Sight'  Tim Field, a prominent British anti-bullying activist, highlighted self-preservation and self-interest as key characteristics of the bully.  One could argue that the existence of these characteristics combined with the positive peer pressure would see bullies either toe the line or leave the organisation.

Persistence 

The third step focuses on the ongoing reinforcement of this collective commitment by linking it to the organisation's day to day operations, from its recruitment practices and team meetings through to organisational reports and events that celebrate a united and harmonious work environment.

Well directed policies and training are important tools in the fight against bullying, but eventually it is the power of the collective commitment that will create an organisational culture where everybody can confidently speak out against bullying when it occurs and work in unison towards a safe, harmonious and productive workplace. 

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