I write this article after reflecting on a workplace investigation I undertook last month and the connection it has to some of the workshops I have conducted in relation to workplace behaviour.
The investigation started with one complaint that involved 6 employees and rapidly became 14. The disturbing factor throughout the investigation was the acceptance for behaviour that had crossed the line, otherwise illegal. The issue I struggle with was that a couple of employees in leadership roles thought the behaviour was not serious enough to act on.
To add to the complexity was how the unlawful behaviour was impacting the employees outside of work.
Figures from The Victorian WorkCover Authority estimates that workplace violence costs $57 million per annum. Compared with international studies it could be much higher.
What is Workplace Violence?
“It is - Incidents where employees are abused, threatened, assaulted or subjected to other offensive behaviour in circumstances related to their work.”
It can be Physical and/or Psychological
Whilst Physical Violence is easy to identify, it is the existence of Psychological Violence that has been long underestimated. Psychological Violence is often perpetrated through repeated behaviour of a type which may seem minor but which cumulatively escalates to a serious form of violence. It often consists of repeated, unwelcome, unreciprocated and intended action which may have a devastating effect on the target, not to say a single event would constitute an act of violence.
Often Physical and Psychological Violence overlap one another, making it difficult to categorise different forms of violence. Some of the most frequently used terms are:
It involves the misuse of physical and psychological strength, it is behaviour that is uncivil. It includes harassment, bullying and mobbing.
To menace hurt or injure resulting in fear of physical, sexual, psychological harm or other negative consequences to the target(s).
To physically injure or attack a person(s) leading to physical harm.
It can be unwelcome conduct - physical or psychological, verbal, non-verbal, visual – based on the protected attributes under EEO legislation such as age, disability, domestic circumstances, sex, sexual orientation, race, colour etc, including sexual harassment.
Sexual Harassment is unwelcome sexual behaviour, which could be expected to make a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. It can be physical, verbal or written.
With violence comes stress for the targets, other employees, the employer and those outside of the workplace.
What is Stress?
“It is the state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances”
Both positive and negative stresses can be present at any given time. Employees build up their own resilience and skills to deal with stresses as they arise in normal circumstances, which is a positive phenomenon. Stress one would say is normal and necessary. It’s when this stress changes and builds in intensity, is continuous and repeated leaving a person being unable to cope, lack of support being shown where stress then becomes negative, leading to physical illness and psychological disorders.
In a report written by (Hurrell et al., 1997, pp. 163-170), it was concluded that assaults may occur more frequently among highly stressed workers than those experiencing less stress.
Knowing what Physical and Psychological Violence is, is the first step in establishing a framework to manage both Physical and Psychological Violence in the workplace.
This brings me back to the beginning of the article, so what went so incredibly wrong last month and in other workplaces I have worked in.
Stress was a common denominator in many of the discussions both in the workplace and in some cases the domestic situation. So why did it get to this level?
One needs to consider the correlation between Psychological Violence the employee was going through in the workplace and the impact this may have on their personal life. There have been relationship breakups, physical violence against women, strained relationships and suicidal tendencies.
It is the responsibility of all workplaces to work towards creating a workplace that is built on mutual respect.
At Maureen Kyne & Associates we deliver the Civil Treatment® Series that is designed to help organisations prevent, detect, and correct inappropriate behaviours and build productive, inclusive cultures. We use engaging, interactive learning to put participants in real life scenarios.
Here's a famous optical illusion. When you look at it, you’ll see either a young woman or an older woman.
Your friend who’s sitting right next to you may see a young woman gazing off to the side, while you see an elderly woman with her eyes cast downward.
Both of you -- the drawing contains both images. Even though this blog is written in relation to US conditions, the situation and issues are not dissimilar to Australian conditions and laws that govern our workplace.
Below is the full article from ELI®. Would love to get some feedback on your thoughts abotu this.
Here’s a famous optical illusion. When you look at it, you’ll see either a young woman or an older woman. Your friend who’s sitting right next to you may see a young woman gazing off to the side, while you see an elderly woman with her eyes cast downward. Who’s right? Both of you — the drawing contains both images.
This difference of perception is an analogy for what’s happening in our workplaces. The EEOC’s statistics show that charges of job discrimination and Commission lawsuits are on the decline. To many lawyers and others, this represents a welcome reduction in risk and a sign of progress. Compared to practices and conduct of past decades, it is.
Yet, I’m betting if you were to walk into many organizations that had only a minimal number of claims and lawsuits, employees would tell you there’s a serious issue lurking just under the surface. It’s a source of internal charges, complaints, negative engagement survey feedback, and daily frustration. But, the behaviors involved do not hit the compliance radar. For that reason, they are not taken seriously by many.
Essentially, individuals from different groups are raising issues of exclusion, e.g., being ignored in daily conversations, being spoken to dismissively, not getting the same social and professional welcome as their colleagues, and being limited to formal, if not wooden, levels of communication and interaction. To them, unfairness and isolation are obvious and painful, restricting their opportunities for mentoring and advancement.
Whose view of the workplace landscape is right? Both are. Legal risk over “traditional” EEOC claims is clearly declining, in large part, due to improved employment practices. These have been built on years of experience and a commitment to fairness and compliance following a 50-year history of statutory civil rights enforcement and awareness. In fact, many of the worst slurs, behaviors, and actions are relatively rare as more employers have enacted strict policies, implemented workplace training and reporting mechanisms, and continue to scrutinize individual actions for evidence of disparate treatment and statistical impact.
Yet, there’s a big gap between illegal and exclusionary conduct. Here’s the reason why: in most parts of the U.S., if you remove tangible actions and overt forms of mistreatment, such as blatant disparate treatment or outrageous verbal or written actions, it’s nearly impossible to raise viable claims of discrimination.
However, the impact of what’s being termed “subtle behaviors” is real. Surely we can all remember instances when we were excluded based on such interactions. And, in our workplaces today, at least from what many surveys and opinion polls indicate, perceptions of racial gender, sexual orientation, and ethnic and age alienation still remain based on such conduct. As Hamlet said, “…there’s the rub.”
The way we communicate and how we interpret our interactions is largely based on tone of voice, body language, eye contact, and casual social interactions – all of these give us the perception we’re either part of- or excluded from- groups. And, these groups include our workplace assignments. Though negative interactions don’t lend themselves very well to “legal” proof, they still have the power to demotivate and demoralize and definitely affect performance, quality, retention, and other important business metrics.
Think about your co-workers. Even though you share the same organization, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll share the same perceptions of certain workplace comments and behaviors. Think about your friend who saw a young woman in the illustration, whereas you saw an elderly one. The different views that individuals have of their workplace are that real.
Unless employers mean that inclusion is limited just to behaviors that can spark compliance liability, it’s vital to see both sides of the picture in our workplaces. This is the only way to fully address our organizations’ commitments to fairness, civility, inclusion — in essence, the intended purpose of laws dealing with fair treatment at work.
We all make quick decisions, sometimes unaware that we’ve even made them. But unless we’re part of the walking dead, the majority of our actions include conscious thoughts on issues like what type of careers we’ll pursue, who will be our friends, or where we’ll live. The same is true in our daily work lives where the combination of our non-thinking and purposeful choices affects the quality of what we do and the impact that our decisions have on others. To build inclusive workplaces, both must be given proper attention. Ultimately, though, it’s how we act, rather than why we act, that matters most and where leaders should be focusing their attention. Even though this blog is written in relation to US conditions, the situation and issues are not dissimilar to Australian conditions and laws that govern our workplace.