Over the past few months, there has been a steady uptake on one of Tradie HR’s most popular workshops – Getting Our Script Right: Taking Bullying and Harassment Out Of The Workplace.

Managers, employees and businesses are wanting to know more about how to keep the bullies at bay, and just what they need to do to create a safe and inclusive workplace for everyone.

The reality of having a workplace where bullying and harassment defines your culture is massively damaging to your people, your managers and your business. It strips away your company’s reputation and diminishes your people’s effectiveness and trust with each other and you. Plus, those that are being bullied or harassed take it home with them, directly impacting their partners and families.

Underpinning this is that both actions are unlawful, meaning not only your company can be fined but there could be significant penalties for individuals as well.

Identifying bullying and harassment

Your first stop to keeping the bullies off-site is to start by understanding exactly what it means. Bullying can be defined as ‘repeated and unwanted comments, behaviours or actions towards an individual or group.’

Sounds confusing? Here’s an example of the definition in real life. A few years ago, an up-and-coming building superstar came to me with a hunch that he was experiencing this definition every day.

He was really good at what he did, being promoted up through the company at a much faster rate than his mates. This included one older workmate, who’d been there for a lot longer.

Quite simply, this workmate was jealous that he hadn’t been promoted in the same way, and instead of talking to their boss about it, he decided it was time to dial up the insults, laced in sarcasm, keeping it all as a “joke”.

The repetitive, sarcastic comments were unwanted – it was bullying. The young builder was tired of it, and that tiredness got taken home at night to his new family.
It also had a severe impact on his mental health, requiring me to find additional support for him while he went through the process of formally addressing his bullying complaint.

We also need to look out for harassment. This is “when someone behaves towards you in an unwelcome way that is offensive, humiliating or intimidating”. Again, just what does this mean?

I’ve often dealt with harassment cases regarding a person’s physical appearance. For example, one employee who worked in sales told me she went to her sales manager to ask for some advice on how she could generate more sales leads and sales activity.

Her boss’s advice was to “undo another button’. She was left feeling completely humiliated, and resigned from the company a week later.

Again, similar to my rising building star, the impact on their mental well-being was huge. Their self-confidence was impacted on a scale that was quite simply, heart-breaking.

Stopping bullying and harassment

So just how can you, as an employer, a manager or a team mate, make sure that bullying and harassment stay off-site – for good. Here’s some key tips:

Check for Withdrawal: At the daily morning teas, take time to see who’s been a bit quieter than normal. On-site, check your team dynamics for who’s not quite behaving the same.
One great manager I coached was brilliant at picking up these silent clues. Over a period of a month, he realised that every time his site manager came on-site, the normally jovial team soon quietened down, dropped their shoulders and kept their eyes down. It was a drastic change in the vibe, and so the general manager, checked in with each team member privately. What he discovered was that all four were tired of being yelled at and enduring endless sarcastic comments. This type of silent withdrawal was a key clue that resulted in me helping to sort out this on-site bullying.

Check your banter: Banter is how we connect in New Zealand. Kiwis love a good, quick-witted, sarcastic comment to lighten the mood. Yet often, this is the only way we compliment each other, and if that’s all you’re getting from each other, long term, it’s hard to see what you’re doing right.
Continuous comments such as “Come on ya girl’s blouse, get on with it” or “put your big boy pants on” can get tiresome and wear people down. They can also be defined as a form of bullying, so check in with your workmates on the phrases you’re using with each other and add some authentic and honest praise.

Book the ‘Getting The Script Right’ workshop with your team: Without a doubt, the above paragraph on banter will have got you thinking, and the only way to know how to use banter is to talk about it with each other. However, sometimes it’s hard to do this by yourself, so book this 45 minute workshop with your team, where, together, you can discuss and identify how to use the right words and in the right way for your team. It has been proven that bullying is less likely to flourish in those workplaces where it is talked about openly, and where education is provided for employers and employees.

Dealing with bullying and harassment has been a regular part of my work for many years. Educating people how to get their words right to help create positive and engaging workplaces is central to what I do.

If you feel there is bullying and harassment in your workplace, or you want to be proactive and prevent it from happening, please reach out for support from Tradie HR.

This article is not intended to be a replacement for legal advice.