Currently I reside and work in a country where most organizations do not have a policy on harassment or bullying and unions and employee associations are not allowed, so when this topic was suggested I wondered how I would address it. It is not possible to ensure that employees are aware of policies or practices that don’t exist and these policies are not likely to be enacted any time soon.
I decided to explore the idea that the best way for HR to communicate that bullying is unacceptable in this environment, is to create a workplace culture that eliminates the space for bullying to occur.
Just as supply chain management by large companies like McDonalds has created the opportunity to ensure that suppliers treat the environment with respect – an unexpected win for environmentalists, I think that freezing out bullying might create an unexpected win for HR and for those who have been victims of bullies.
I like to think of this as developing a Poka – yoke for bullying. Can we stop it before it happens? We have done this with mechanical devices, like electrical plugs – we can only put them in the socket one way, thus preventing us from electrocuting ourselves, at worse, or giving ourselves a shock, at best.
When we take money from the ATM, our debit card pops out and we have to remove it before the money comes out. This is a Poka-yoke design that prevents us from leaving our card in the machine. If we don’t remove the card, we won’t get our money and most of us won’t walk away without that!
I think it is possible for HR to create a strong culture that stops bullying before it takes hold. This culture would focus on team work, friendships, supportive behaviour and fun! It would have clear guidelines for how employees relate to one another.
Am I dreaming? I don’t think so. There are many ways to create an active, healthy, productive workplace and this kind of workplace has little space for bullying behaviour.
Happy people have more positive work behaviour and are more highly engaged (Diener, 2000). There are a number of ways to create a workplace that encourages happiness. One way is to encourage, coach and train to employees in the attributes of happy people, which are: to be organized, keep busy, spend time socializing and develop a positive outlook (Fordyce, 1977).
Happy employees are more engaged and this has a positive impact on workers, organizations and customers. Engagement creates positive perceptions of one’s work and one’s workplace(Spreitzer and Porath, 2012).
Spreitzer and Porath (2012) suggest four ways to energize and engage employees
- Encourage them to make decisions that affect their work
- Practice ‘open book’ management – tell employees what is happening and share the goals and aspirations of the company and their measurement criteria
- Create a ‘civil’ culture
- Offer employees feedback
Yet another way to improve morale and, coincidently, productivity is to involve employees in fitness activities in the workplace (Carnethon et al., 2009; Pronk et al., 2004).
Unexpectedly, it seems that perfectionism, the kind of perfectionism that originates in the person herself, and motivates her to succeed, also creates higher levels of engagement (Childs and Stoeber, 2010).
There are a number of ways to encourage engagement:
1. Social gatherings like picnics, philanthropic work, and parties
2. Employee recognition, promotions, and thank-yous
3. Employee development, attending workshops and conferences
4. Employee meetings, complaint sessions, brainstorming, and discussion forums
5. Empowerment, involving employees through responsibility
So these are some ways to create a workplace that mirrors a civil society which discourages bullying at the source. By promoting employee engagement, health and happiness, HR practitioners can send a clear message about the workplace culture that leaves no place for bullying, creating a virtual Poka-yoke for bullying.
1 Poka-yoke is Japanese slang for “avoiding inadvertent errors.”) http://www.ahrq.gov/qual/mistakeproof/mistake1.htm
Childs, J. and Stoeber, J. “Self-Oriented, Other-Oriented, and Socially Prescribed Perfectionism in Employees: Relationships with Burnout and Engagement.” Journal of Workplace Behaviour 25.4 (2010). DOI: 10.1080/15555240.2010.518486
Diener, E. “Subjective well-being: The science of happiness and a proposal for a national index.” American Psychologist, 55, (2000).
Moore, H. ‘Spot the difference.’ Occupational Health 64.10 (2012)
Spreitzer, G. and Porath, C. “Creating sustainable performance.” Harvard Business Review (2012)