2016 International Workplace Bullying Conference

I’m back with renewed energy and motivation after a wonderful week in NZ where I caught up with family and also attended the 2016 International Workplace
Bullying Conference. The coMoira at 2016 International Workplace Bullying Conferencenference was a great combination of researchers and practitioners discussing the individual and collective efforts to combat toxic workplace problems such as bullying and harassment, and promote healthy and sustainable environments. The importance of  psychologically healthy workplaces and evidence based prevention and management of conflict, bullying and harassment at work, can not be underestimated. Having a workplace culture that promotes good mental health and takes practical and evidence based measures to prevents toxic behaviours such as bullying and harassment, not only supports the workers, but are crucial to productive and sustainable workplaces.

The conference was organised in close collaboration with The New Zealand Work Research Institute, AUT University and The Healthy Work Group, Massey University. There were many researchers from Australia and New Zealand as well as England, Denmark, Germany and other European countries and Asia as well. It was interesting to hear about some of the emerging economies starting to recognise and tackle bullying and harassment at work.

We were reminded at the beginning of the conference of a Maori proverb that was very applicable to the workplace, and the work that we all do:

He aha te mea nui o te ao?

What is the most important thing in the world?

He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.

Bevin Clatley from Massey University (New Zealand) talked about this Maori proverb, reminding us “that organisations are more than just a collection of inputs and processes producing goods and services – they are fundamentally about people and relationships. Healthy, positive and sustainable workplace relationships would seem crucial to key organisational processes” Yet despite knowing this, we need to ask ourselves, why do so many employers allow psychosocial hazards such as bullying and harassment to impact negatively on the health of individuals workers, knowing that this  contributes to inefficient teams and departments and on the productivity of the organisation as a whole.

Prior to the conference I attended the Risk Management ‘Special Interest Group’ workshops, chaired by the marvellous Dr Carlo Caponecchia from University of NSW.  This group has grown over the years and we had representatives from a number of large organisations including NZ Defence, Emergency Services from Canada, private consultants, Universities in Australia, NZ, and Europe, and many Work Health and Safety specialists. I’m pleased that the Risk Management approach to prevention of bullying is gaining more evidence as the best way to approach this problem. The Workshop highlighted the importance of interventions extending from the individuals involved, to addressing the organisational culture, identified risks and broader issues that allowed the behaviour to emerge. This is the type of work I do,  and love – working with organisations around identifying the risks, and addressing them from this multi-layered perspective rather than just focusing on the behaviour of individuals. Some of the more common risks that can lead to poor behaviours include:

  • Geographically isolated teams (mobile teams)
  • Demanding work with little control over how the work is carried out.
  • Lack of training for mangers on how to ‘nip problems in the bud’- prior to a complaint being made
  • Poor leadership including supervision style – lack of training
  • Restructuring / poor change management processes and insecure jobs
  • Poor policies / polices that are not disseminated/ no training around policy expectations
  • Lack of training for staff on their ‘Rights and Responsibilities’
  • A Mono-culture where diversity and difference is not accepted
  • High stress, and poor support from the organisation.