Workplace bullying may be at epidemic levels if a recent survey by recruitment firm Hays is anything to go by. The survey of 1000 workers from across Australia and New Zealand established that a staggering 45 per cent had experience of bullying that was based on their race, gender, age, sexuality or disability. And of that 45 per cent, 15 per cent had left their workplace because of it.
In the wake of the Christchurch mosque shootings, such findings are chilling. New Zealand is ostensibly a nation built on acceptance of others — it's enshrined in our human rights law — but somehow poisonous attitudes have managed to linger in our working lives.
The figures broken down reveal 64 per cent of people with a disability had experienced bullying, and 58 per cent of people who identify as LGBT. Fifty per cent of women and 38 per cent of men have experience of being bullied, with 50 per cent of mature people having this experience.
Forty-one per cent of those with experience of bullying had taken no action about it, with 15 per cent leaving the organisation. The rest had the issue resolved through working alongside a team leader, manager or HR person, or independent investigator.
Adam Shapley is the managing director of Hays New Zealand. He says they decided to explore bullying through a diversity and inclusion lens, as this is something they have identified as key considerations in the workplace.
He agrees that the numbers are concerning, but says there is range of measures that can be employed to resolve such issues in the workplace. He believes that understanding diversity is vital in order to stem the levels of bullying.
The survey is the first of its kind undertaken by Hays, so it's impossible to judge against past results. But Shapley says that it pays to bear in mind that bullying is far more freely spoken about now than in the past, and this may be part of the reason for such dramatic results.
When it comes to remedying incidents of bullying, it pays to know your rights. Workplace bullying is covered by the employment law, and once reported, employers are legally bound to do something about it. Shapley says that Citizen's Advice Bureau, Employment New Zealand are Human Rights Commission are all able to provide those with concerns with information they need to make informed decision.
Speaking up is vital. Talk to a co-worker you get on well with; someone who is able to provide a sounding board for your concerns. Speak in confidence about what is happening and ask if they feel it is a cause for concern. From this point, you can move on to more formal procedures and speak to your management or HR person about the situation.
The survey did not ask for information about who was doing the workplace bullying, but as 15 per cent of those who were bullied left the organisation, it's fair to assume that their managers may have been involved.
Bullying by a manager towards an employee can be tricky to handle. Using the human resources staff is the ideal starting point, but if it's a small company that doesn't have an HR department, it may pay to speak to another person in a senior role about the situation.
Another option would be to involve an external mediator from Employment New Zealand. This is a free service that involves a semi-formal meeting between the parties involved, in which the issues are raised and hopefully resolved. A request for mediation form is available on the Employment New Zealand website; on this you can provide details of exactly what is happening so they can work out the best steps to take.
Most large companies have a statement that outlines their philosophy, behaviour expectations and mission statement. This document should make overt reference to bullying and how to prevent it occurring in the workplace. The companies statement underpins the wider culture and can be an excellent reference point for anyone concerned about how they are being treated.
Company cultural norms are changing. In the wake of scandals in the legal profession and reports of significant gender bias in vital fields such as medicine, the underlying culture within organisations has come under the spotlight.
Champions for Change (of which Shapley is a member) is an organisation made up of 53 leading New Zealand CEOs and chairs, who are committed to the creation of diversity in the workplace. Members include David McLean ( Westpac), Michele Embling ( PwC) and Angela Mentis ( BNZ).
"New Zealand is doing great work around diversity, through the likes of Champions for Change," Shapley says.
He says the promotion of the value of workplace diversity, good management training, coaching, and good feedback processes (such as staff exit interviews) go a long way in helping to foster healthy work environments.
"The critical thing for all businesses [looking to eliminate bullying] is to understand their culture. It's easy to conduct surveys through [online survey website] SurveyMonkey around workplace culture to give you an understanding of what the company culture is like for staff."
Knowing what "good" looks like is also important when assessing your company's culture. By actively promoting a "zero tolerance" bullying policy in your workplace, managers are leading the way and encouraging others to follow in their wake.
There is a lot of great work being done in the field of diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace and resources, such as those offered by Champions for Change, can be extremely valuable.
If you're in the painful position of being bullied at work, remember that the law is on your side, there are people out there who can help you, and it's always better to speak out.