How can we improve workplace?
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.
Dr Ursula Edgington