Workplace Bullying Policy: Can We Overcome Prejudices That Perpetuate Workplace Bullying?

Workplace Bullying Policy: Can We Overcome Prejudices That Perpetuate Workplace Bullying?

While I am encouraged by recent steps in Australia to pass anti-bullying legislation, I know from years of dealing with bullying and workplace conflict is that merely having a law or a policy doesn’t instantly “fix” the issue. It certainly feels safer on first looks—after all, if there’s a law and workplace policy, shouldn’t that offer protection for the worker?

The reality, as always, is a little more complicated.


Bullying Policy Backlash Reveals the Real Attitudes 

The predictable backlash against the Australian law very much mirrors backlash we used to hear in the United States around sexual harassment law. Already an alliance of over 200 businesses have formed to protest and fight the law, using these tired arguments:

Contempt for Targets

  • “Workplace bullying is subjective—people who complain are too sensitive.”

  • “It’s not the employer’s fault if people can’t get along.”

  • “She/he needs to be tough. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

Respect for Aggressors

  • “He’s just a tough boss. He meets his deliverables and then some. If his style works, then let him keep it up.”

  • “He doesn’t mean it the way you think. He’s really a nice guy. He just loses his temper.”

Fear of Aggressors

  • “That’s the way he is. He’s not going to change.”

  • “She founded this company; built it from nothing.”

  • “She’s too important to let go.”

  • “He’s bullying everyone. It’s the way it is around here.”

Institutional Defensiveness

  • “We have an aggressive culture here. That’s what works in our industry.”

  • “Bullying complaints will flood the courts.”

  • “We can’t adjudicate who’s responsible because it’s just personalities, not business.”

  • “This will create an unmanageable bureaucracy because dissatisfied people will use the policies to make unreasonable and irresponsible complaints.”

This represents the true feelings of many businesses around the issue, and probably the underlying attitude when they are forced to create an anti-bullying policy.

What Does That Mean For You? 

It most likely means no policy, an ineffective policy, or one without the support of leaders of the organization.


How Will We Get a Good Workplace Bullying Policy? 

What are the characteristics of a good Workplace Bullying Policy? How do we overcome the attitudes and behaviors noted above? And what other ingredients are needed to make sure it can be enforced?

In my next blog, I will discuss solid advice from a cross section of experts about creating a more effective workplace bullying policy in order to better protect workers and the company. I wish to include your comments and experiences so I am hoping for a lively discussion on the Linkedin forums or messages sent directly to me.

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For more on handling difficult conversations, read my ebook, Stop Arguing & Start Working: 6 Steps to Being Confident, Calm and Capable During Difficult Conversations At Work.The book is available now.

I’ve been a strategic consultant on workplace conflict to executives worldwide for more than 20 years. My work brings individualized solutions to your teams’ lost productivity, loss of key personnel, low morale, and the high costs resulting from bullying, abrasive behaviors and interpersonal workplace conflicts.

I’m Kathleen Bartle, Conflict Consultant.