August 17, 2010

Workplace Bullying in New Zealand

Chief Executive Officer resigns admitting ‘unbecoming behaviour’ in $A34 million lawsuit.

Recently a massive claim ($A37 million) for damages for sexual harassment was lodged by an employee of David Jones, one of the largest and most prestigious department Stores in Australia, against the CEO. The fallout for the perpetrator has been that the CEO has resigned admitting to “unbecoming behaviour”; and the victim may not as yet received any assistance.

In this instance the perpetrator is evident and the victim is out in the open; however much of the time bullying goes unreported and unnoticed until sometimes when personal grievances or constructive dismissal complaints are laid.

The key findings and observations in the 2009 Study commissioned by the New Zealand Government (Bentley et. al.) found the following:

  • The industry-level perspective was that workplace stress and bullying were relatively widespread across the health and education sectors, but that bullying was most evident in certain ‘hotspots’ within hospitality, notably the kitchen area;
  • Underlying problems within health and education appear to be structural. A wide range of organisational factors were associated with workplace stress and bullying risk – including ineffective leadership, resourcing problems, poor work organisation, human resources practices, and organisational strategies for the management of psychosocial hazard
  • All sectors had limited understanding of the workplace bullying problem and how to address it through initiatives for its management and control.

I suggest that the motivating factors that influence work place bullying are Power and Privilege.

Power allows an individual in a place of control to exert pressure over subordinates to get what they want.  Privilege creates a position where an individual usurps others to satisfy their own personal needs. Galanter (1974) in his classic article “Why the Haves come out ahead: Speculations on the limits of Legal Change ”concluded that those in a place of privilege (the Haves) create a position where power will always succeed as that position enables the “Haves” to ascend control over the “Have not’s”.

The imbalance of power and privilege is rife throughout the workplace from the production floor to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). The imbalance of power and privilege covers many issues and isms. These issues and isms from class, ethnicity and sex are powerful motivators in the struggle within the diversity of the workplace.

Human resource departments have a duty to encourage a process of bringing awareness to the issues of Power, Privilege and Diversity that exist and cause difference in the workplace.

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) are an integral part of the Human Resource Manager and General Supervisors tools of assisting those that may be at risk of bullying in the workplace.

At Kilpan & Associates we can provide EAP independently and objectively to resolve work place issues

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