Reflections on Pink Shirt Day – How effective is your organisation at dealing with workplace bullying?

Written by Samantha de Coning

Last week, we celebrated Pink Shirt Day which recognises the importance of addressing bullying and its impact.  From what I have seen on social media and beyond, many people took the opportunity to acknowledge the occasion and have an open conversation about this very important topic.

However, beyond individual awareness, I have also been reflecting on the importance of organisational response to this issue. There is a wide spectrum in how effectively, or ineffectively, different organisations handle bullying complaints and the support they have in place for their people.

In our current climate where we are presented with many examples and reports of bullying in the workplace, in both the public and private sectors, it seems there may be considerable value to review what we are doing in this space. Effectively, this would see organisations taking an audit-style approach to assess the well-being initiatives they are promoting, the work they have done to date in this area, their reporting mechanisms and the support processes they have in place. Ultimately, they need to be asking the fundamental question - how are we doing?

An audit-style approach

In order for this stock-take to be meaningful and useful, it is necessary to follow a discovery process which focuses on reflective practice. This starts by clarifying how the organisation understands and defines bullying. Once this is established, we can begin to ascertain how well the organisation is doing at managing it, including reviewing the documented occurrence of bullying in the workplace, along with the associated processes, preventative actions and pathways to speak up.

It is equally useful to define what success looks like and how that is being measured – or else how do you know if you are being successful? If an organisation is currently relying on raw quantitative data, maybe it is time to look deeper by using facilitated conversations within your organisation, or anonymous surveys as a way to corroborate your findings.

"Ensuring that the system is effective, and proactively addressing any inadequacies you find, brings numerous benefits to both organisations and individuals."

This may also be an opportune time to review your initial aspirations and whether these are still fit for purpose. It can often be the case that when we are partially successful and meet initial goals, we become complacent and need to reset or stretch ourselves. There is always room for improvement, especially when it comes to well-being and bullying in the workplace.

By gauging the current situation and how the status quo is impacting individuals, teams and the organisation as a whole, it is possible to derive what work still needs to be done and the best way forward. We can also evaluate the effect of any steps taken to date. The flip side of the equation is to assess the potential impact of not dealing with bullying properly or not having effective channels and services in place to manage the situation.

By taking this approach, we can then start to address the question of what needs to happen next in order for the problem to be solved or the situation to be improved? What are the current organisational and individual needs? Does the current support meet these?

Is the current system still relevant and appropriate?

As the way in which we work has changed to incorporate hybrid models, flexible patterns and working from home, so it is also important that the support in place evolves to remain fit for purpose. Raising awareness of the service, making sure it can be accessed in a way and time that suits, and establishing whether people are comfortable using the service are all key aspects.

For example, an organisation may have highly accessible internal channels for reporting bullying but require a confidential and independent external speak-up service for employees who are more comfortable talking to somebody they don’t work with every day. Similarly, organisations tend to have robust formal policies for occasions when bullying is severe and obvious, but do not necessarily have informal, coaching services that are readily available to employees to guide them through workplace conflict.

There is also the further issue of whether an organisation’s people leaders have the required skills to navigate this type of conflict and to have challenging conversations. Organisational culture is often determined ‘from the top down’ and there may be a need for training to bring about the change required.

To proactively conduct and address the results of such an audit is to fully embrace the notion of both organisational health and employee wellbeing. Some organisations are already performing very well in this area, whereas others will find they need to think internally and externally when forming a solution. This stands true both in terms of where they are likely to find further help and in terms of the nature of the services that they need to offer.

Next steps in the organisational response

People are complex and while a ‘one size fits all’ approach can be tempting, the best overall support comes from having an array of options that can cater to a wide range of needs. This can include internal and external channels, plus formal and informal services, which are backed up by fair and transparent processes when things escalate. 

However, the best solution always begins with an honest and realistic audit which identifies and clarifies the problem the organisation needs to resolve.

Employers across Aotearoa partner with Fair Way to proactively improve wellbeing, build internal capability and positively address workplace bullying and conflict. We can help you with the audit process, guide you through the associated challenges and provide you with the tools and capability so you can grow your skills.

From coaching, training and facilitation, through to mediation, impartial reviews and expert assistance, we are here to help.

If you would like to have a conversation about workplace conflict in your organisation, including the audit process, then please contact us on 0800 774408 or via workplace@fairwayresolution.com

About the author

Samantha de Coning FAMINZ (Mediation), BJuris, LLB is Head of Practice at Fair Way Resolution Limited.

The focus of her role is on developing dispute resolution practice across Fair Way, as well as her own work as a mediator, adjudicator and arbitrator.

If you would like to get in touch with Samantha, please contact her by email at samantha.deconing@fairwayresolution.com