Should we reimagine workplace bullying systems with a positive approach?

I was recently supporting an employee who was working her way through alleged workplace bullying. We were talking about processes used by companies to address workplace bullying and discussed both formal and informal solutions. I sent her off to explore the workplace process and bring them back to me so we could discuss them further.

In her exploration, she contacted HR and asked about the policy and procedure for bullying and the resolution process. She also asked whether she was allowed a support person through the informal process. She was advised that the business was “not required” to allow a support person through an informal resolution.

This had me thinking about how workplace systems can, and do, prevent successful dispute resolution? We know that unresolved conflict can lead to workplace bullying claims, so our early intervention processes are a key element to prevent escalation.

We fall back on our company systems, policies and procedures to provide us with guidance on what we should do and how we do it in the workplace. Having read numerous policies and procedures on workplace bullying, they generally contain the same key elements. They generally tell us what is, and what is not, workplace bullying; a formal complaint may form a part of it’s resolution; and if you’re a really bad bully, your employment could be terminated. Somewhere in there, you might find a suggestion that self-management is the first step, but this is often very one sentence without any guidance on how.

Our workplace systems, policies and procedures can be tools that guide our employees to positive outcomes. Let’s re-imagine our workplace bullying policy. As an example, let’s rename it as “Workplace bullying prevention and conflict resolution policy and procedure”. It incorporates definitions of workplace bullying and conflict. However, it also includes acting early to prevent escalation. It outlines approaches to self-management and resolution providing guidance to employees. It gives employees a message that resolution and action is something that can be a positive experience.

Returning to the supported employee, if the HR person had responded by asking “how that would be helpful” and “let me see if I can arrange it”, maybe there would have been a better outcome and an earlier solution. In the end, it went down the convoluted, drawn out path of formal complaint creating a team of stressed employees.

So should our systems, policies and procedures adopt a more proactive and positive approach in promoting early intervention to workplace conflict? Should they guide our employees in what is good conflict resolution, and ultimately, escalation prevention strategies?

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