'Locals Only': Bullying Beyond the Beach

As many surfers will attest to, localism – a sense of geographical entitlement coupled with extreme selfishness, resulting in bullying, intimidation, often inciting violence - is the ugly side of surfing. Sadly, just like localism, bullying in the workplace, and not just in the surfing industry, is unfortunately common.

Workplace bullying can have a serious negative impact on individuals and on companies. A toxic culture will result in high staff turnover, low productivity, increased absence due to stress-related illnesses, lost innovations, reduced creativity and collaboration, and difficultly attracting quality employees.  

So what is workplace bullying and how can you prevent this toxic behaviour from infiltrating your company?

Like many areas of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), there are often seemingly grey areas when it comes to interpreting bullying in the work environment. By definition, workplace bullying is repeated behaviour that a reasonable person would consider to be humiliating, intimidating, undermining or threatening. Bullying behaviour creates a risk to a person’s health, safety and wellbeing and can be direct or indirect. It may involve repeated incidents involving the same behaviour, or a number of different behaviours directed towards the same person or group.

Bullying in the workplace doesn’t just encompass the obvious behaviours, such as put-downs, offensive verbal abuse or spreading rumours. It can involve interfering with a colleague’s personal property, unjustified criticism and excluding someone from workplace activities. Deliberately denying access to information or resources, setting tasks that are unreasonably above or below the person’s capabilities, excessive scrutiny, and intentionally setting unreasonable deadlines, are also all examples of workplace bullying.

Workplace bullying does not include, giving constructive feedback, informing an employee about unsatisfactory work performance, disciplining an employee for misconduct, ‘reasonable’ allocation of work, and transferring an employee or not selecting an employee for promotion (where they do not meet reasonable criteria). These are often the ‘grey’ areas and for managers or supervisors it can be a fine line delineating between what constitutes bullying and what doesn’t, especially when it comes to how criticism – relating to someone’s performance or capability - is delivered and received.

Regardless of interpretation however, all employers have a duty of care for their employees and, as far as is reasonably practicable, they must provide and maintain a working environment that is safe. Employees also have a duty to take reasonable care for their own safety and the wellbeing of those who may be affected by their behaviour at work. Interestingly, if you look at the origins of ‘localism’ (for example, the Wolfpak’s enforcement of the North Shore) it stemmed from a system of honour, value and respect, with the intention of protecting surfers (particularly non-locals) from Pipeline’s life-threatening waves. Unfortunately those origins tend to be clouded by hostility and resent, and like bullying, it pollutes rather than protects the surfing world.

So here are some ways to foster a culture of respect in your workplace and protect your business from bullying:

Communicate clearly

Take the time to clearly communicate performance and behaviour expectations with your staff and do so on an ongoing basis. Provide proper inductions for new starters, check for meaning to ensure there is no misunderstanding or misinterpretations and encourage questions – even the seemingly stupid ones. 

Separate business from personal

Be firm but fair in how you communicate with your staff and how you manage their performance. Everyone has a different filter on how they interpret information so adapt your approach to suit but be mindful of focusing on the work not the person.

Be consistent

Just as practice makes perfect, consistency enhances clarity. It also prevents confusion and helps to ensure an even playing field. Be consistent in the messages you convey and how you deliver the information regardless of who is on the receiving end.

Educate and inform

Develop policies and procedures for preventing bullying in the workplace and ensure you provide frequent and ongoing training for all employees in relation to their rights and responsibilities. This will help to create an environment where everyone understands what constitutes workplace bullying and has the confidence in dealing with it.

Take a zero-tolerance approach

Respond quickly, investigate all complaints and come down hard on anyone that doesn’t play by the rules. A wrap on the knuckles, turning a blind eye or offering second chances is not acceptable – this signals to your employees that bullying is ok and a tolerated practice.

Catch people doing the right thing

Rather than focusing all of your effort on identifying negative behaviour, highlight the positive. This will encourage more of the right behaviours and help to perpetuate a positive and harmonious culture, which is the greatest prevention of workplace bullying. 

Posted by: Jaclyn Knight, on April 10, 2014
Categories: Articles