Dealing with Bullying in the Workplace

At Central Psychology Services we are experienced at supporting those who are bullied but also at providing specialist coaching for the person who has been accused of being a bully.

Please contact us for advice regarding the management of all persons involved. As an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider we have psychologists who are able to provide support to those people who have been bullied. As an EAP provider we are able to provide an employer with advice about how to manage those individuals who require support. We also have psychologists who are experienced at providing specialist coaching for the bully themselves and/or assist in restoring the relationships within a workplace where bullying has occurred.

The Bully themselves

When someone has been accused of bullying many things happen.

A complaint has been received and the employer must act. For the purposes of this outline I will refer to the person making the complaint as the “complainant” and the person about whom the complaint has been made, ie the alleged bully, as the “respondent”.

At the organisational level there’s the question of what to do with the employees involved in the complaint and this means the complainant and the respondent.

At the personal level, the individual who has been accused of bullying is often unable to accept the terminology and may react by becoming defensive. Mostly they are in shock and may then try to defend themselves by getting legal advice. The advice they are likely get from a solicitor will focus on what they consider will reduce the harm to that individual which may include denying that the behaviour has occurred and so the process of resolving the matter is prolonged. An investigation is then required to determine who has been “good” and who has been “bad”. In truth there are no winners in a situation like this.

As part of an active process to address the complaint, I recommend that the organisation assesses the whole situation. This might include organisational interventions such as a conciliation process to ensure all can work together again if the behaviours have been detected but the bully will remain as part of the workplace. It can also provide the person against whom the allegation has been made an alternate path to being dismissed or defending the claim. I recommend that this occur as when there is no active process put in place to address the question of “what has happened here?”, “is our manager a bully?” then unresolved issues remain in the workplace, not the least of which is where does the respondent work whilst the claim is investigated.

What matters most is that the complainant is safe. Once that is achieved then the question is what to do regarding the respondent. If an investigation is required, the complainant needs to be “heard” and supported, it takes courage to put in a complaint and so the organisation needs to see this as Red Flag regarding the culture of that workplace.

What to do with the respondent?

If there is reason to believe that the bullying complaint is legitimate then I would recommend that the organisation prepares a letter to give to the respondent in which it designates the issues and requests the respondent to attend a program whereby they

  • Review their own behaviour
  • They undergo psychological assessment
  • They investigate with their “coach” the reasons for the complaint
  • They determine their role in the complaint
  • They work on what they could have done differently
  • They work on what they were their intentions and decide how to meet those expectations of themselves and their employees/colleagues the next time they may arise
  • They work on a letter back to the organisation which includes a summary of the psychological assessment and the reasons for their behaviour and a recommendation from the psychologist regarding ways to ensure this kind of behaviour is not likely to reoccur. This letter may include recommendations regarding relocation and capacity to work in a supervisory capacity in the future.

The psychologist involved will be using techniques associated with the concepts of responsibility and effective communication within the workplace including understanding of the other as well as self awareness training.

Confidentiality in this process is limited to details of the respondent’s life which are private and not relevant to the situation but the individual entering this process needs to sign off an authority to the psychologist that they will allow them to disclose whatever information they are given to the referring organisation.

Supportive counselling per se to cope with this process has its own difficulties as this third party may well take the position that it is not in the individual’s best interests to participate in any program designed to address those behaviours at work which have led to the bullying complaint. It is easy to collude with a bully, they often present as a very plausible victim of the situation. This then leaves the organisation and the respondent stranded about how to resolve this matter. In the long term it also fails to help the “bully” in that too many people have been left feeling that they have made an error but they have been treated as pariahs in their workplace. Eventually they leave the organisation with a consequent loss of their expertise to the organisation but also in many cases their careers are over as they lose faith in themselves or they are not able to find employment at the same level.

This program is directed at making sense out of what happens and to ensure the complainant is supported whilst ensuring the respondent is given the opportunity to work through their behaviours towards a resolution of the matter not a loss of all parties to the organisation.

Speak to one of our friendly staff on (08) 8410 2342 | 18 Ruthven Avenue