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Adopt zero tolerance for bullies and harassers

How leaders can make a difference

Written by Dr. Shaun Ridley FAIM
2 minute read
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The world has changed in terms of its tolerance towards bullies and harassers. The words and behaviours of twenty years ago cannot be tolerated in the modern workplace.

We can’t rewind the clock on inequality, inequity or abuse of the past, but we can take a strong position to ensure these behaviours do not occur today.

Leaders bear a huge responsibility if this zero tolerance approach is to be successful. They must be exemplary in their own behaviour, without exception.

This exemplary behaviour must be on display in formal settings, as well as casual conversations. An inappropriate comment during an informal corridor conversation is just as damaging as it would be in a public address. Leaders must practice what they preach.

Leaders also have a responsibility to speak up and take action if they witness inappropriate behaviour or comments from others. In fact, all staff have this responsibility, but the spotlight is brighter on leaders.

If a leader ignores inappropriate behaviours by others or misbehaves themselves, then it simply emboldens more junior staff to say “It must be okay because the boss does it”.

The true test of how committed your organisation is to zero tolerance happens when the perpetrator is one of your top performers. Do you overlook, or put up with bad behaviour because you don’t want to risk losing one of your stars?

This conundrum plays out publicly in high profile sports teams.

When a fringe player contravenes the team rules, they are swiftly reprimanded, fined and suspended. When the bad behaviour is committed by the star player, the sanctions are conspicuously lighter and the excuses more plentiful. Such double standards damage the team culture and the brand.

One more small step in the next 24 hours

It all starts with you being an exemplary role model for demonstrating respect and dignity towards others.

Be brutally honest with yourself about your words, actions and attitudes. When have you done or said something that could have been interpreted as bullying or harassment? What will you do to ensure it never happens again?

Be public in your support of initiatives to remove bullying and harassment across your organisation. Anticipate and plan for the inevitable occasion when you witness inappropriate behaviour from another person.

How will you respond immediately? How will you respond later? Have a plan in place for different scenarios, including situations where the other person is more senior than you, a peer or more junior.