How to Tackle Bullying, Harassment and Inappropriate Behaviour

3 March 2020

How to Tackle Bullying, Harassment and Inappropriate Behaviour

The recent news about bullying and harassment at the Home Office and the Alzheimer’s Society are just the latest in a long line of revelations about poor and inappropriate behaviours which are hugely damaging to organisations in terms of reputation, public trust, staff morale and ultimately profitability/productivity. And that’s before we even consider the impact on the individual in terms of well-being, mental health and professional development.

According to a recent report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) ‘a quarter of employees think their company turns a blind eye to workplace bullying and harassment’.

One of the common factors in all cases is that perpetrators of poor behaviour (often senior managers and leaders) claim that they were ‘not aware’ that they were bullying or harassing people, that it was not their intention – and they may well sincerely believe this.

There is usually a missing piece when organisations try to address cultural and behavioural issues. Namely – the ability to See one’s own behaviours, and to See the impact of those behaviours. Most people will think – “Ok, I get it. I know that certain behaviours are not appropriate or helpful, and other people need to become aware and change – but I don’t do those things. And even if I do, there is a good reason why – it’s necessary to get the job done etc.”

To create real behavioural and culture change you need to enable people to first See that their own behaviours may not be optimal, and to See the impact that those behaviours are having on others.

So how do you do this in a safe and constructive way?

Where there is a conflict or clash between two individuals, then mediation is often what is needed, either through the intervention of a neutral manager/leader, or from an external mediator.

But if there are more general behavioural challenges in your organisation, one answer is to use drama and story to ‘hold up the mirror’ to current behaviours and culture.

In our experience this is hugely powerful – enabling people to achieve personal insight and learning. It also creates an environment – when well facilitated – where people can then discuss and explore openly and honestly how they feel about these complex issues, enabling them to Own the problem and to Own the potential solutions and changes needed.

Change can be modelled and explored via the use of drama and skills practice sessions – helping people to practise how to have conversations about this stuff.

Then comes the hard part – how to make any new behaviours stick, how to make the raised awareness business as usual, how to make it Live. Organisations often believe that running a ‘training session’ will solve all their problems. This is almost certainly not true as:

  • Organisational processes and policies (e.g. what is rewarded, measured and recognised) must align with the desired behaviours.
  • There must be mechanisms to reinforce and remind, ideally via existing channels and tools such as team meetings, communications and events.
  • And, most importantly, if leaders do not role model the desired behaviours people will very quickly revert to the old ways.

The onus is on organisations to be pro-active in addressing issues of behaviour and culture – and you can’t just ‘tick the box’. Change is process, and it starts with self-awareness.



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