It happens in every business, at some point. A manager oversteps the mark and the robustness of the internal complaints system is tested. It might be that murky area when legitimate performance management action becomes workplace bullying or perhaps one of the several forms of discrimination. What happens next reveal insights into leadership and culture in that workplace. Hopefully, the policies and procedures are clear and up to date. We also need to trust that those governing the system are trained, experienced and know their roles.
Over coming weeks, everything is done by the book. Tension might be high, but the system works and the case against the errant manager is proven. Penalties are applied, including perhaps a termination of employment. This is the way it should be. Justice has to be done and be seen to be done. We then typically move on as quickly as possible.
When these incidents occur (and your next one may be only days away) how many of us undertake any form of post investigation review to understand the origins or wider impacts of this behaviour. How many were aware of the behaviour and looked the other way? Why did it take a courageous victim to subject themselves to the formal process before anybody acted?
People in organisations who behave inappropriately, particularly those who behave aggressively, understand that the likelihood of them being called to account is low. Sometimes they imitate behaviour that they have witnessed in the workplace previously. Critically, when post incident reviews are conducted, we find that too many people knew what was happening but chose not to act. Unfortunately, some of those who looked away will have been in positions of seniority. And that signals an organisational culture that is in deep trouble.
Australian corporate culture is a reflection of wider Australian culture. We like to give people a ‘fair go’; we don’t like ‘dobbers’. Much of this is deeply connected to our colonial history. But this backward looking justification for poor behaviour has no place in the 21st century workplace.
Businesses need their employees to be as productive as possible as often as possible. If a workplace aggressor roams the office unchecked and unchallenged, then the short term impact on productivity and long term impact on organisational culture is disastrous. Waiting for them to transgress to a point of no return is a sure fire way to drive away great employees.
Organisational leaders carry a reasonable expectation that employees are productive and achievement focused. To achieve this, the support they provide to their employees in times of high anxiety must be demonstrative. The conclusion of an investigation into inappropriate workplace behaviour (regardless of the outcome) is one of these times and should be the trigger for an open and transparent review of what is really going on out on the shop floor.
Don’t miss your moment.