You may not think of your office as a place where bullying occurs, but believe it or not, this kind of interpersonal conflict happens in places other than just the schoolyard.
Unfortunately, workplace bullying often goes under the radar. Why? First of all, it’s not always as obvious as the overt name-calling, shoving, and teasing that we have come to associate with made-for-TV bullies. Secondly, bullying can be embarrassing: a team member who is being bullied may not want to talk about it for fear of looking weak. He or she may also feel pressure to avoid ‘dobbing in’ a coworker, or becoming the target of the bully if they step in on someone’s behalf.
But workplace bullying can and should be addressed by managers in any business or company. In the work environment, bullying tends to be a long, slow, and progressive process, whereby the perpetrator emotionally and psychologically manipulates his or her target over time. This can lead to serious problems with an overall workplace environment and may even contribute to lost productivity, increased errors, and other issues that are common with a distracted and unhappy team member (not to mention a worst-case scenario in which companies are held legally liable for failing to protect an employee against bullying).
So, the first step in putting an end to workplace bullying in your company is to learn how to tell if, when, and where it’s happening. Here are 5 subtle signals that your workplace environment may be home to some bullying:
Is there a person on your team who seems to always have an excuse for his or her performance? Does he or she frequently point fingers at someone else, using another person as a scapegoat? Responsibility has to lie somewhere: if someone is unwilling to take personal responsibility for their own actions or inactions, then chances are they’re attempting to unfairly shift that responsibility to someone else.
Having a patronising attitude toward someone is a subtle way of putting that person down and making him or her feel victimised. A team member who appears to make fun of, minimise, undermine, or discredit someone’s ideas or needs (especially on a consistent basis) could be bullying. They maylaugh derisively at someone’s thoughts or ideas; or physically disengage in communication by turning away and changing topic drastically.
We all tell white lies from time to time. But if a person has a pattern of frequently lying, raising false hopes, or saying they’ll do something and then failing to follow through, then this could be a sign that he or she is trying to take advantage of the people around him or her.
A sensation of “us versus them” can be seriously detrimental to the health and unity of a company. Team members may achieve this by purposefully not inviting someone to a work event or failing to include them in pertinent discussions, meetings, or projects. Purposefully underusing a team member or persistently delegating undesirable tasks to him or her (especially if they fall within many people’s job descriptions) can also be seen as an attempt for separation.
An example of this is, ‘ghosting’, where the bully will ignore a team member’s attempts to communicate for legitimate work reasons, while they acknowledge other people’s communication that they consider more important. While this practice is, unfortunately, widely tolerated in Australia, it is, nonetheless, damaging.
Going overboard on compliments and flattery is disingenuous at best; at worst itcan be a form of manipulation, persuading the target to check for the flatterer’s approval on any decisions or action. It can also be used as a prelude to more overt bullying, encouraging a person let their guard down, therefore becoming easier to manipulate.
The best bullies tend to be very smooth operators, able to hide their bullying well, and will leave just enough wiggle room to claim their good intentions are being misconstrued, in the event they’re called out. The best defense against bullies is education and awareness. When people are aware of the signs, it becomes harder for the bully to operate freely.
Keep in mind that workplace bullying can happen at any level and in any direction within your company. Everyone, from senior level executives all the way to the newest team members should be held to the same standards that are necessary to create a positive and healthy work environment.
To your mental health,
– Pedro Diaz
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On R U OK? Day we’re reminded that leaders play an important role in safeguarding and supporting the mental health of their teams. Asking after the mental health of a team member is the first step, and a very important one, in creating a more mentally healthy workplace.
However, what we’ve noticed over the years in our training and consulting work, and what we’ve read in studies from the major world economies, is that employees are reluctant to open up about mental health concerns to their leaders.
A study we completed recently confirmed what we’ve been hearing. We reached out to our community of managers and everyday employees and asked them two questions:
‘If a friend asked R U OK?, and the answer was ‘No’, would you tell them?’
‘If your BOSS asked R U OK?, and the answer was ‘No’, would you tell them?’
And, anticipating the response we might receive, we asked another question:
What advice would you give management to make it easier for their people to say ‘I’m not OK’?
We asked respondents to leave comments on the first two question if they wished, and we asked about their gender and age group so we could look for basic trends.
The results were pretty interesting.
Consistent with what we’ve seen and read, managers are a lot less trusted by employees when it comes to disclosing their mental health state. 29% of people said they’d hold back from telling a friend if they have a mental health concern. But that figure jumped to almost half when asked if they’d tell their manager.
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Mental health issues are a common problem facing Australians, and the related statistics are telling:
Why is this so?
Access to care, language barriers, and a dearth of quality resources are a few reasons why, but perhaps the most insidious reason is stigma.
Mental Health Stigma Exists — and it Doesn’t Necessarily Stop at the Workplace
Stigma has a powerful influence in the world of mental health issues. Society at large often views people living with mental disorders as unstable, dangerous, or even violent. People with mental health challenges are often believed to be incapable of leading productive and fulfilling lives—indeed, sufferers themselves may even believe this. Research doesn’t tend to support these assumptions, but media and cultural expectations often bolster them, anyway.
These assumptions—real or imagined—can discourage people living with mental ill-health to seek much needed treatment. Their condition may make them feel ashamed, weak, and alone, which of course only compounds their mental health issue and propagates a vicious feed-forward cycle of stress, isolation, and illness.
Mental Health Issues on the Job
If we agree that stigma about mental health is virtually ubiquitous, then it becomes clear how this same stigma can exist in the workplace, too. Specifically, both employers and employees may assume a mental health problem will render a person less productive, less organized, and less able to focus on their tasks at hand. Of course, in some cases this can actually hold true, especially if an individual hasn’t sought treatment for their underlying disorder.
Many workplace team members living with a mental health issue choose to hide their issues. They often fear for their job security or are afraid to risk “losing face” in front of their bosses, colleagues, and customers. On their end, employers may not have the tools and tactics to talk to their employees about their suffering. Indeed, an employer may not even be aware that one of his or her team members is suffering from a mental health issue in the first place (unlike a broken ankle or other physical ailment, mental health conditions are often “invisible” and difficult to recognise).
Are you a psychologically safe manager?
It’s worth pausing here to reflect on something: mental health problems are common problems. It’s unfortunate that so many people grappling with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other issues believe that they have to face their challenges alone. Fortunately, leaders in business organisations are in a unique position to change the way their individual companies approach and accommodate mental health, which can have a profoundly positive impact on the issue of mental health as a whole.
3 Ways to Reduce Stigma Associated with Workplace Mental Health Issues
A workplace culture that stigmatises against workplace mental health issues can be detrimental to both individuals within a company and to the company as a whole. Breaking through this stigma can be extremely difficult. Here are 3 ways to get started:
From senior executives to entry-level team members, everyone in your company can benefit from learning more about mental health. Consider sending out company-wide memos, holding in-services, inviting guest speakers, or even running annual events such as “Mental Health Month” as a way to disseminate information and reduce the fear, stigma, and mystery surrounding mental health.
Work with your HR team or consultants to raise awareness about policies and programs designed to support both physical and mental health. Use discretion and show that you respect your employees’ privacy.
As a manager, it’s in your best interest to show your employees that they will not be discriminated against due to a mental health issue. Lead by example. Show that by acknowledging and seeking help for a health issue, a person can become an even more valuable employee at your company, rather than a liability.
To your mental health,
– Pedro Diaz
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Traditionally, when speaking of Workplace Health and Safety, psychological injury is not something we thought about. But, as many professionals have realized lately, a Workplace Health and Safety strategy is severely incomplete without taking psychological injury into account. (for help creating a Mental Health Workplace Strategy visit www.wmhi.com.au) Psychological injury is also known as psychiatric injury, and it includes all mental, emotional and physical injuries acquired from the place of employment. Employees that suffer from a psychological injury due to an employer’s negligence can take legal steps against their employers, so it is essential to create a safe working environment to prevent such occurrences. Legally, it’s no longer ok to ignore the psychological safety of employees. Managers are now liable.
Yet, how do we know if an employee is at risk of psychological injury at work? One symptom of employees that are suffering from psychological injuries is a noticeable and measurable reduction in their production or in the way they handle, or their inability to handle, emotional issues. For example, they may become acutely defensive even when feedback given in a reasonable manner. Unfortunately, many businesses refuse to recognize that a place of business can have a severe psychological impact on its employees. However, considering that employees in full-time employment spend a significant portion of their time at work,it is clear that a workplace plays a vital role in an employee’s life. As well as their psychological state.
Traditionally, psychological injury was thought to be brought about by stressors in the workplace such as extremely high workloads, difficult employees, unrealistic deadlines or unrewarding work. Under this assumption, it was thought that a combination of stressors in a place of business increased the risk of psychological injury significantly. However, according to recent studies, other crucial factors can affect or cause mental injury at work. According to these studies, relationships at work and the level of support given to employeesis more likely to cause psychological injuries than anything else. In this regard, the less supported, the less valued and the less understood an employee feels at work, the greater the risk of a psychological injury.
This not only indicates that a change of attitude and behavior is required from employers;it also emphasizes the need to establish interpersonal relationships with employees. A positive relationship between employers and their employees creates a platform to handle conflicts well, which reduces the number of psychological injury claims made by employees. Additionally, through positive work relationships, collaborative behavior is encouraged, which promotes the establishment of considerationsthat can regulate the number of psychological injury cases that may arise.
A business that supports its employees through flexible arrangements makes employees feel valued, which encourages productivity in the personal and business lives of employees. To reduce conflict brought about by psychological injuries, it is essential for employers to create a safe work environment that is free of discriminatory practices and one that fosters positive work relationships between employees of all levels. By instituting training, campaigns and prevention strategies, employees can become more engaged, happier and less inclined to take legal action.
It takes effort, from both the employers and their employees to reduce the instances of injury. But, ultimately, it’s the employers responsibility to take the initiative to create a psychologically safe environment at work.
We help management create psychologically safe environments, and minimise psychological injury, with our many programs. In particular, our flagship course the Workplace Mental Health Masterclass for Leaders. Check it out and see if it can help you too.
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