Over the past several years bullying and harassment in the workplace has received increasingly focussed attention. Whether this is because the prevalence of this type of behaviour has increased or the mechanisms and attitudes towards it have changed is a topic for discussion. Either way, for owners of small to medium enterprises, managing this area can be extremely problematical.


This is a complex area and there are many factors which can impact on the likelihood that an issue will present itself. In smaller businesses where fewer employees are the norm the management ‘style’ and personality of the business owner, who often works directly in the business themselves, can have a direct and powerful impact on the overall ‘culture’ of a business for good or bad.


The overall workplace ‘Culture’ within a business can itself be the determiner of whether an environment that tolerates, or even actively supports bullying behaviours exists. Management style, cultural background, gender balance and emotional intelligence are only 4 factors that can have a direct influence on overall workplace ‘culture’.

Given the various Acts that legislate this area it is not enough that a modern workplace operates on the basis of an unwritten culture. All workplaces, regardless of size, need to have written policy and procedure that clearly defines what bullying is, specifies the business’s position in this area and details the approach and methodology to be followed where complaints with regard to bullying and harassment are tabled.


There is almost a sense of inevitability, in my view, that people in management/supervisory positions will have to deal with either a direct accusation of bullying or be called upon to hold and investigation into a complaint at some point in their working life. In my experience the process for handling these types of complaints are further complicated where the complainant(s) or alleged perpetrator take Personal Leave as a response to any investigation that is being proposed or carried out. This can effectively stymie any process and potentially undermine the principles of fairness and equity which should underlie any management approach. Inevitably, even where an investigation into these matters is exemplary will not preclude the potential for an unfair dismissal action or dissatisfaction by stakeholders who are unhappy with findings and/or action taken.


Given the above, and on the understanding that any approach to bullying and harassment also falls in the purview of ‘risk management’ the following limited steps may assist in mitigating risk exposure:

  1. Have a clearly defined written policy and procedure on bullying and harassment in your workplace and make sure that this is rolled out to all staff.
  2. Set up a mechanism to ensure that your key policy documents are regularly revisited, it’s no use having policies which are only ever seen when a new staff member comes on board.
  3. Seek out training for yourself or management staff in conflict management, effective communication, dealing with difficult people and equal opportunity and make sure that this information is shared with all staff.
  4. Deal with behavioural issues quickly and never turn a blind eye to conduct which contravenes your policies. Ignoring unacceptable behaviour only gives tacit approval inevitably leading to further and escalating instances of the same. Have a ‘zero tolerance’ attitude toward negative behaviour and foster this in your workplace.
  5. Focus on the ‘soft’ skills when you recruit new employees and monitor new staff with regard to their interpersonal skills and ability to work harmoniously within your team. Being good at your job is only one factor in being a valuable employee.
  6. Ensure that you hold, or that your management team hold, regular staff meeting and tool box meetings. These can be invaluable in exposing potential internal issues before they become major events. Regrettably too many businesses use lack of time as an excuse for not doing this, think creatively about how you can manage this effectively and be prepared to think ‘outside the box’ an innovative solution may be under your nose.
  7. Establish ways that you can ‘team build’ and think about activities and events that help to get individual employees to better understand their work colleagues.

Whilst none of the above will provide a 100% guarantee that incidences of bullying and harassment will never occur in your workplace they nevertheless support the provision of a positive workplace culture that will actively work towards prevention of one which is tolerant of bullying and harassment.


Think actively about your workplace and how many of the above factors are either present or missing. What is your next step?


Author: Rob Littlewood, Clearwater Workplace Solutions

Download Article ; Bullying and Harrassment Not in my business