New Zealand's high rate of bullying in the workplace

Published on Manukau Courier 

OPINION:  There's a common misconception that bullying predominantly occurs in the playground or school yard.

The reality however, is that this idea leaves little room for acknowledgement of the toxic relationships between adults in the workplace.

It's a relatively awkward issue to confront because the hope is that when you are working with other adults, you expect to be treated with respect.

Nevertheless, when there are power structures and difficult personalities in the mix, this basic principle is apparently not so easily applied.

Workplace bullying has been defined as repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that can be physical, verbal, relational or social.

Alarmingly, New Zealand has the world's second highest rate of bullying in the workplace.

I don't doubt that there are many workplaces around New Zealand that have general guidelines and policies to address these issues but I am equally confident that these guidelines are not easily enforced and are only raised when necessary or at the height of tension.

From my own personal experience, one of the reasons why these guidelines are not easily enforced is because there is always the risk and fear that there may be negative consequences for speaking up.

This becomes particularly difficult for those working in smaller workplaces where a human resources team may not be available and the organisation is structured in such a way that requires you to work with and rely heavily on the perpetrator.

Additionally, there are many tools online to support people experiencing these difficulties at work and whilst it is important to acknowledge the significance of having these resources readily available, I have to be honest, going online to read a number of different PDF documents probably isn't the first thing that some would even consider.

I don't believe that there is only one solution to this issue.

Due to the various employment structures, power dynamics and diverse range of employees in any given workplace, it is clearly difficult to find a blanket resolution that covers all.

The most effect solution, I believe, lies with two groups of people.

Firstly, individual employers must take a proactive approach and feel responsible for unacceptable conduct within their workplace.

Accountability empowers leaders to act and as long as someone is held accountable for certain behaviour, there must be appropriate consequences.

Secondly, the power also lies with you and me. Most employment contracts don't stipulate clauses, which require us to be thoughtful, kind and respectful.

This is something we must consciously do every single day. We must be thoughtful with our words, kind in our intentions and respectful of everyone around us.

If you hear or witness anything, have the courage to speak out against it and hopefully others will follow your lead.

The power that these values have in addressing prejudice, discrimination and bullying cannot be underestimated.

- Reina Vaai is a criminal lawyer, Tagata Pasifika reporter and blogger. 

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