How can we im­prove work­place?

Matamata Chronicle - - Your Paper, Your Place - DR UR­SULA EDGINGTON

The toxic na­ture of the New Zealand work­place is widely known.

Ev­i­dence I have ex­plored sug­gests New Zealand work­places con­tain un­ac­cept­able and harm­ful so­cial be­hav­iours that of­ten go un­chal­lenged.

Or­gan­i­sa­tional poli­cies which aim to ad­dress bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment com­plaints are of­ten un­help­ful or even counterproductive. For in­stance, rather than be­ing viewed as an in­no­cent vic­tim, the bur­den of proof is placed on the com­plainant.

Em­ploy­ers will of­ten ap­point costly lawyers skilled in evad­ing the con­se­quences of non­com­pli­ance with ex­ist­ing (some­what am­bigu­ous) em­ploy­ment laws. In­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tions com­monly have con­flicts of in­ter­est that mean any out­comes of­ten align with the best in­ter­ests of the em­ployer, rather than the tar­geted em­ployee.

The process ap­pears to de­lib­er­ately seek to wear-out com­plainants with ac­cu­sa­tions and threats which cause fur­ther anx­i­ety and dis­tress.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, many em­ploy­ees are un­able to en­dure an ex­pen­sive, stress­ful lit­i­ga­tion with lit­tle or no hope of a sat­is­fac­tory re­sult.

They there­fore of­ten give-up on their case al­low­ing (another) work­place bul­ly­ing is­sue to be­come in­vis­i­ble - and in­evitably another tar­get takes their place.

A re­search study in 2009 by Massey Uni­ver­sity con­firmed the ex­tent of the prob­lem: Up to one in five New Zealan­ders had ex­pe­ri­enced some kind of bul­ly­ing in the past six months – much higher than in­ter­na­tional av­er­ages.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, the re­search blames in­com­pe­tent man­age­ment and in­ad­e­quate poli­cies. Bul­ly­ing is fre­quently not for­mally recog­nised as a haz­ard and of­ten un­fairly dis­missed as a per­son­al­ity clash.

Cul­tureSafe NZ Ltd was set-up to pre­vent and ad­dress prob­lems of work­place bul­ly­ing.

The com­pany held its third an­nual con­fer­ence re­cently, de­bat­ing some of the is­sues and pos­si­ble so­lu­tions.

Out­comes em­pha­sised the im­pact of bul­ly­ing upon the health of vic­tims. As GP Dr Robin Kelly em­pha­sised, this could be de­scribed as Com­plex Post Trau­matic Stress Dis­or­der (PTSD).

Dr Donna Stem­mer high­lighted her suc­cess in rais­ing aware­ness of em­ploy­ers of the ben­e­fits of valu­ing staff as hu­man cap­i­tal in­vest­ment, rather than merely a pay­roll ex­pense.

Ed­u­cat­ing HR de­part­ments about the neg­a­tive im­pact of bul­ly­ing can be highly ef­fec­tive. Tar­geted train­ing at com­pany di­rec­tors is also ef­fec­tive in chang­ing mind-sets.

And for em­ploy­ees, Cul­tureSafe runs reg­u­lar fo­rums that aim to help tar­gets of bul­ly­ing share their ex­pe­ri­ences so that oth­ers can learn from them.

Dr Ur­sula Edgington is a re­searcher and writer.

MIKE BAIN

Dr Ur­sula Edgington

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