We know prevention is better than a cure, so why are our workplaces plagued by allegations of bullying?
It’s been 10 years since Victoria enacted the Crimes Amendment (Bullying) Act 2011 known as Brodie’s Law. The Act was amended after the 19-year-old Brodie Panlock took her own life in 2006 – a victim of workplace bullying, enabled by a toxic workplace culture.
Victoria’s anti-bullying legislation came into effect in June 2011 making serious bullying in the workplace a criminal offence carrying up to 10 years imprisonment. In the first five years of the legislation’s enactment, Victoria Police recorded more than 140 offences and over 58 convictions.
In addition to Brodie’s Law, under Occupational Health and Safety and anti-discrimination law, an employer has a duty of care and legal responsibility to provide a safe workplace, and any employer who doesn’t prioritise compliance and allows bullying to occur is not meeting this requirement.
How Far Have We Come in 10 Years?
Since I started as Safetrac CEO in 2011 I have noticed massive change in the compliance space. Back then, no one really knew what I was doing. People really didn’t know what compliance was let alone why I’d want to do it. We’d work with a person who was often relegated to the bowels of the organisation and called a ‘compliance officer’. They had no budget and people in the organisation barely knew their name.
Since then, there’s been a seismic shift with the formation of very large compliance and risk departments, Chief Officers sitting on the board with significant budgets and often reporting upon compliance initiatives, risk, and controls.
Some organisations are getting it, where a good leader sees compliance as a necessary investment. But there’s still many organisations that take the ‘check-a-box’ approach to compliance. In this case, the impetus for real change often only comes once a breach has occurred and an organisation has received an enforceable undertaking by the heavy hand of a regulator.
We see compliance breaches that land companies on the front page of the papers for all the wrong reasons – misconduct, anti-money laundering, staff underpayment, bullying, sexual harassment – the list is growing and so is the demand for compliance training as a result.
Where we see allegations and incidents of misconduct, this screams of governance failures. In the case of bullying, where a toxic culture is left to fester, bullying gains momentum and it’s much harder to regain control and repair the organisation including its reputation and its brand. And for the individual, the adverse personal consequences can be rapid, and the trauma can be deep.
Exemplifying this is the high-profile case of Christine Holgate who earlier this year gave a courageous confession of how she experienced suicide ideation – a result of being the target of bullying, harassment and the abuse of power whilst serving as CEO of Australia Post.
“I was suicidal.”
10 years on from Brodie’s Law, Australia continues to grapple with a torrent of bullying allegations and widespread cultural issues across the private and public sectors, not-for-profits to sporting clubs to the highest echelons of Parliament House. If we consider Kate Jenkins Respect@Work report and the federal parliament’s adoption last week of just six of the 55 recommendations for reform, we’ve not come far.
Tip of The Iceberg
Serious bullying is the tip of the iceberg and a critical question to leaders and boards is the extent to which they prioritise good governance and a healthy workplace culture. The question also extends to regulators and whether the mechanisms available are adequate to address the systemic issues festering below the surface.
For an organisation with a toxic workplace culture, it effectively can continue to operate unchecked, with ongoing, systemic issues which impact upon people, productivity, and the bottom line. For the person being bullied – the injury to mental health can be far more precipitous, which could take years to overcome.
For a workplace to be investigated by WorkSafe, the onus of proof rests upon the Applicant to prove they have experienced five separate bullying incidents in their workplace. If this threshold isn’t met, an investigation won’t be triggered, and the case will be closed. In cases which end up in the Courts, organisations often impose confidentiality agreements on victims which further serves to silence the prevalence and extent of bullying. This has also been a common approach by organisations when it comes to sexual harassment cases. Weinstein and the #metoo movement however have somewhat changed that, with organisations realising that silencing the issue won’t make it go away.
The Next 10 Years?
It’s a human right to feel safe and respected and leaders and boards must step up and take a proactive approach to engendering a healthy workplace culture. Not enough is being done to support all people in all Australian workplaces where varying degrees of bullying are taking place, and this extends to bullying in the boardroom.
The tone at the top sets the mood in the middle, which creates a buzz at the bottom. In a workplace context, accountability ultimately rests with the board of directors and the CEO who are legally responsible for good governance. However, whilst obliged under the Corporations Act 2009 (Cth) and other legislation to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all, these legal and fiduciary obligations to act with care and diligence, don’t automatically translate into good governance.
The most successful organisations are led with a genuine people first approach. They operate by the adage, treat people with respect and you will be respected. In business terms, this means that an organisation governed by a board with integrity, is one that invests in its people, it understands that compliance is not a check-a-box obligation, it cares about its people and ensures a respectful, safe, and productive workplace for all, for the long term.
It was Einstein that said, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” To witness real change going forward, we need to think differently, and this requires an investment in education and compliance training. We need all Australians to be trained in respectful workplace behaviour. If we can go about this at a minimum, then we can dictate long term cultural change.
Deborah Coram, Safetrac’s CEO, will regularly share industry-relevant news to keep you informed on what’s happening in the world of compliance and brand protection.
As an authority on compliance training for almost 20 years, Deborah’s insights are thought-provoking, relevant and timely.
This Sexual Harrassment Booster course is designed to provide you with a general understanding of what conduct constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace.
It is a short booster module that should take you approximately 10 minutes and should be completed along with your standard Safetrac Anti-Bullying and Anti-Harassment Course.
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