Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Bad Workplace Behaviour Resolved - A New Approach Needed

I have a question for every Board of Directors, Executive Management/Leadership Team, Board of Trustees and Business Owners.

Just one question:

Are you absolutely confident that any member of staff who feels victimised, bullied, harassed, assaulted (verbally, physiologically, emotionally or physically), racially or sexually vilified or subjected to inappropriate behaviour has a totally safe avenue for raising it ensuring proper investigation and if need be, necessary action will follow?

It is a “Yes” or “No” answer but before you do, the key issue is your confidence it can happen, not satisfaction there is a process for lodging a complaint.

I am not interested in your vision statements, behaviour policies, anti-bullying or anti victimisation procedures. I am not interested in the corporate values doctrine hanging on the wall or the training modules for new employees or annual reinforcement training about behaviour standards.

While policies and procedures are necessary, they are also a cop out.

I am not suggesting for one moment the Corporate entity. the Employer is not seeking a safe, a fair and an equitable workplace.

However, I am suggesting that a key motivation for such policies and procedures is to ensure a defendable position in the event any incident or incidents of poor behaviour become public.  

Sadly, in too many cases, the employer is concerned about reputational risk or brand damage when the first, second and third priority should be the welfare of an impacted employee.

All the processes, vision and values statements, policies and behavioural training are pointless if there is a lack of trust in what will happen after an incident is reported.

I am aware of Human Resource Areas that refuse to consider an issue raised with them if the complainant is to scared to formally lodge an official, documented complaint.

I recall raising just this with a Senior HR Manager only to be told that they have to be very sure of their legal standing. My response was to question the responsibility to the distressed employee and the impact on their life and career. The HR Manager shrugged their shoulders and looked at me blankly.

From my experience, very few employers enjoy the confidence of their staff that allows matters to be raised and properly investigated. Furthermore, there is lack of confidence that if concerns raised are authenticated, that appropriate action will follow.

The accusations raised in recent days about a successful, high profile media personality read as vile, disgusting and extraordinary. I hasten to add, they have been aggressively denied by the accused.

It has been suggested the financial value of the accused had much to do with the lack of action when concerns about their behaviour was raised often over many years.

During my many years in business, I witnessed a numerous cases of inappropriate behaviour. I can console myself with the knowledge that I have fronted the offender face to face on each occasion. This includes confronting Executives several levels above my level of management.

Perhaps I have been reckless in my actions and I certainly have not been popular on occasions. However, on other occasions, including the most recent example, my frank and open communication has been greeted with appreciation and thanks, if not exactly at the time of the conversation then certainly at a later time.

However, not everyone is as reckless as me.

If an employer is serious about having an avenue whereby complaints and concerns about behaviour can be made with total confidence and where if necessary, an investigation follows, a new approach is needed.

The process for lodging a complaint needs to be outsourced to an independent entity. It needs to be taken out of the hands of a Manager, Supervisor or Human Resources Staff Member.

Further, a decision as to the need to counsel the accused or conduct a proper investigation needs to be an independent decision, totally separate to Management.

Finally, the Employer must commit to executing whatever course of action is recommended by the Independent Entity, without exception.

If you are a Leader reading this suggestion, you will be outraged. You will be concerned that your reputation will be tarnished by way of a disgruntled employee making a frivolous or vindictive complaint.

You will be concerned that this is an easy way out for an employee you have had cause to discipline or to discuss poor performance with.


If you have followed due process when having such discussions, recorded the issues appropriately, you will have nothing to fear.

However, for the sake of the argument, let us accept this is a risk.

In my opinion, it is a risk worth taking because at the moment, careers are being sacrificed, mental and physical health is being compromised all while the Employer is protected.

Besides, a professional independent arbitrator of complaints will very quickly weed out the frivolous or vindictive matter, and the innocent will be protected.

Does your employer have the Courage to move from the protection of defensibility to one of meaningful care for employees and behaviour, or will it be “business as usual”?

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