Workplaces: Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

Bullying and harassment in the workplace take many forms. Sometimes, unfortunately, the label is given to behavior which is simply personality differences. That is why it is sometimes so difficult to identify.

Consequently, and in order to provide clear guidelines for all employees and supervisors, it is critical to have written definitions regarding inappropriate behavior and in order to eliminate misunderstandings and misinterpretations as much as possible.

All of us want to be able to go to work and do our job. We want and expect to be employed by an employer, who provides a workplace that is safe, which actively promotes dignity between employees and which encourages them to treat each other with respect.

Have I lost you? Does this sound like a foreign land? A place that exists on a completely alien set of workplace rules to your experience? I hope not... because there is more...

Other aspects of our working surroundings which we expect include an open, transparent and fair environment and which enthusiastically encourages all employees to act responsibly and be valued for their skills and abilities.

All this describes the 'ideal workplace': the sort of place you perhaps see in glossy magazines and read about in fictional works. It rarely represents the reality of day to day life for the average Joe.

Too many times, gossiping, inappropriate innuendos, physical gestures, exclusionary and isolating behaviour, poorly considered 'jokes', belittling and patronising comments, all play out in workplaces where the organizational culture either condones it or turns a willful blind eye. Each version and variation of this conduct sets up an environment where communication breaks down and relationships become strained. This will make the experience of being at work very challenging for some employees. It seems that we just can't seem to get along with each other!

Organizations everywhere have a legal and ethical obligation and responsibility to ensure that all employees are not subjected to or experience inappropriate and / or unwelcome behavior.

At a minimum, these steps should include:

1. Developing Policies and Procedures: these should reflect applicable national and provincial/state legislation and standards as well as being clearly defined and articulated by the company. They should also be the product of a consultative dialogue with any union or professional organisations which are represented within the workplace.

2. Strategic Communication: this should occur within and throughout the organization regarding the adoption of the policy and be accompanied by leadership examples of commitment and support for professional conduct at all levels.

3. Awareness Training: positive and engaging workshops delivered to ensure that all members of the workforce know their responsibilities within the policies and procedures. Additional training should be provided to all supervisors enabling them to deal with any situations that they become aware of or that are brought to their attention.

4. Available Help: the creation of an internal group of specifically trained and empathetic employees. They should represent a cross section of areas within the organization and be presented as trusted advisers whom employees can go to for advice should they believe that they have been the victim of bullying or harassing behavior in order to discuss the situation should they wish. Professional counseling should also be available.

Admittedly, this article just scratches the surface of a massive issue that exists in many workplaces. However, follow these simple steps, and the journey has begun.

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