Workplace bullying: the needs of those effected

A recent Australian Association of Workplace Bullying Professionals (AAWBP) seminar discussed leadership bulling and how best to address the needs of both offenders and victims.

In a previous blog, the importance of helping alleged bullies change and reform was examined, with support to the view that those who exhibit this behaviour can be changed. Read the blog here. But what about the victims?

From an investigative point of view, investigations into bullying and sexual harassment should always be trauma-informed and victim-oriented. To read more about trauma-informed investigations, read our blog here.

How can you as a manager, support an employee impacted by bullying? Alexina Baldini, a Psychologist with Enable Workplace Consulting, says that bullying can affect a person physically, socially, emotionally and behaviourally. It can also affect their finances, career paths and their perspectives on working.

Also, with the impact in the individual, bullying and bullying behaviour also affects the organisations leaders and managers, the team and the organisation as a whole. Lastly, it can have a devastating effect on the industry. Recent developments with Swimming Australia and the banking industry are good examples.

A manager’s role in the identification and management of bullying is crucial. After a complaint, what things should a leader consider? It’s important to balance the needs of the bullied worker:

  • Can they continue in their role?
  • Do they need alternate duties?
  • Do they need time away? Other support?
  • What are their entitlements?

Baldini says that are advantages of staying their normal role. They know the tasks, have a familiar team, invest in a longer-term view and add stability to the team makeup. There are, of course, disadvantages, like splits in the team (i.e. for versus against the bully).

Putting the victim in a “supported relocation” can be useful. It can be a fresh start, give new opportunities and can allow gradual challenging over time. The disadvantages include too much training demand (a barrier to a successful return to work) and the need to re-familiarise themselves.

Baldini believes that a graded return to work for victims of bullying is essential. Modified duties require a strong involvement from HR in terms of flexibility, task modification and a “buddy system” that provides the support and adds to the victim’s social relationships.

There’s stigma around bullying if you are a victim, and this stigma can compound the negative effect outside the original injury.

Specialist bullying investigator, Gregory Lamey of the Forensix Group, says that – as well as the stigma of being a victim – that the investigative process itself can lend itself to both re-traumatisation and increased frustration (because of the process). “Some organisations take too long to assess complaints and then investigate them,” Mr Lamey said. “Often there are also issues around confidentiality, impartiality, timeliness and quality.”

All this add to a process that just makes things worse than they were originally.

“I sometimes see matters investigated that don’t need to be… or where a simple and professionally run mediation could have helped,” Lamey said.

It’s best to get advice from those experts, like the Forensix Group.

And when the process ends, leaders must deal with the aftermath, like returning to work (RTW) and ongoing relationships. Alexina Baldini notes a successful RTW involves:

  • Early, positive contact from supervisors and managers
  • Effective rehabilitation program
  • Effective and supportive claims management practices
  • Cooperation, consultation and coordination between stakeholders
  • Collaboration with the team

How to interact, responding, dealing with feelings of guilt and resentment

Communication should be open and regular. Transition takes time. It’s important to monitor a bullying victim’s return, support them and be responsive and adaptable.

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