In North America, our attention was directed to the effects of bullying with the death of young Amanda Todd this past October. She was a 16 year old girl who took her own life after struggling with high school bullies, and posting a youtube video as a final cry for help.
Bullying is not limited among youth. Unfortunately it’s a reality that men and women deal with in the workplace, in a passive aggressive and direct manner. Passive aggressive bullying involves making subtle comments to an individual that come across as jokes, but are meant to be hurtful. Direct bullying on the other hand, refers to as aggressive behavior that involves one person directly telling another person hurtful, and often inappropriate things. Both types of bullying can manifest in different ways, and are equally despicable.
The role of human resources as a profession is to manage the human intellect in an organization. The work involved varies between creating and enforcing employee policy.
The best way that HR can clearly communicate that workplace bullying is unacceptable is by having direct policy stating exactly that: bullying is unacceptable in the workplace. Bullying needs to be defined in policy, and there needs to be policies that state the consequences that follow should bullying occur.
I certainly understand that what happens from there is where the real work happens; it’s the responsibility of company leaders to follow through on the policies laid out regarding bullying. But that only makes sense. HR and other company leaders need to set boundaries around conduct in the workplace. Corporate culture needs to reflect those policies. And should employees refuse, then perhaps that’s the indication required to signal that certain employees don’t belong.
If the policy is ignored and employees feel bullied, then those individuals involved (including any witnesses) need to speak up regarding what happened, and discipline ought to be carried out.
At the end of the day, responsibility comes into question. Whose responsibility is it to say that one person’s conduct is inappropriate? When a co-worker makes an offensive joke, how should people respond? It’s not the role of HR to police their employees. However, it is the role of HR to enforce company policies.
I recently participated in an HR discussion group where someone described a drastic decision made by an HR manager to prove that the company policy was not to be broken.
The example I’m about to share involves stealing (not bullying) but I think its message still applies here, to some extent. To respect the privacy of those present, I’ll change the example a little bit, but essentially this is what happened: an employee purchased a closed package of food. Inside the package were two items instead of one. A number of other employees saw this happen, had a laugh, and purchased the same item expecting to receive a second item for free.
The company policy stated that stealing is forbidden. The consequence for each employee who purchased one item but received two were immediately terminated.
Is that an extreme example? Absolutely! But when bullying can lead to such drastic results such as emotional torment, and the taking of one’s life, then perhaps extreme examples are required, and out to be followed in certain situations.
Certainly a great deal of policy writing is reactive. I’m sure that schools in British Columbia will be looking at their bullying policies for some time. But the best way that HR can clearly set the record straight that bullying is unacceptable is to create direct policies, and to enforce them.
The measures of enforcement that are necessary to maintain policies regarding bullying on the other hand, are another complex topic best left for another discussion.