mistakes mangers make bullying harassment

I did an interview a few years back, with a trusted friend, Bernie Althofer, a veteran in the field of Bullying and Harassment.

With over 40 years dealing with behavioural issues in society and organisations, he has deep smarts around this sensitive topic. Although he has since retired, his legend and legacy live on…..

The following is a taste of what we discussed:

What is the Definition of Bullying and Harassment in Australia?

What is the definition of bullying and harassment in Australia?

There are many definitions of workplace bullying and harassment. Some Codes of Practice provide very clear definitions. The level of understanding of what can be a complex issue requiring complex solutions can have an impact on how employers and workers detect, prevent and resolve counterproductive workplace behaviours.

“Workplace bullying can include behaviours or activities that are inconsistent with the norms, values and ethics of society directed towards an individual or a group of people and that a reasonable person or persons would find offensive, humiliating, intimidating or threatening.” (Althofer 2009:13)

And another definition: 

Bullying is an ongoing and deliberate misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that intends to cause physical, social and/or psychological harm. It can involve an individual or a group misusing their power, or perceived power, over one or more persons who feel unable to stop it from happening.  Bullying can happen in person or online, via various digital platforms and devices and it can be obvious (overt) or hidden (covert).  Bullying behaviour is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time (for example, through sharing of digital records).  Bullying of any form or for any reason can have immediate, medium and long-term effects on those involved, including bystanders. Single incidents and conflict or fights between equals, whether in person or online, are not defined as bullying.

Source: https://bullyingnoway.gov.au/understanding-bullying

An important note: 

Legitimate comment and advice, including relevant negative feedback, from managers and supervisors on the work performance or work-related behaviour of an individual or group should not be confused with bullying, harassment or discrimination.

Managers should handle these conversations with sensitivity but they should not avoid their responsibility to provide full and frank feedback to staff.  

For more detail on how to have a positive performance conversation, click here

Source: https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/employers/workplace-discrimination-harassment-and-bullying

Providing negative feedback to staff during a formal performance appraisal, or counselling staff regarding their work performance, can be challenging. 

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What are the Keys to Successful Management of Bullying and Harassment?

What are the keys to successful management of bullying and harassment?

The bottom line is that as a manager you should be documenting your conversations and saving as file notes, together with sending an email follow up when you start to notice underperformance and think there may be a comeback or future problem.

And even if you don’t have any underperformance within your team, you should still be making notes of the interactions you have to engage in proactive, regular conversations that are focused on the positive NOT primarily the improvements as has traditionally been taught!

The 3 Keys

Be Proactive

The first key is to be proactive. If you take the word bullying off the table, then as a manager it is really about managing behaviours at all levels of an organisation.

Knowledge and Awareness

The second key is about self-knowledge and awareness. You need to know your strengths and weaknesses as well as the opportunities and threats inherent in your team and organization. I find in most instances that where relationships start to deteriorate, there is usually a tell-tale sign of manager/staff member behavior or communication style clashes that begin due to a misunderstanding of each other’s preferred way of communicating ie task vs people or introvert vs extravert. You can find more detail here

Emotional Intelligence

The third key is about being clever in the way you act and being aware of how people may react to what and how you say to them when you are dealing with them. You can find more here on how to use the skills of emotional intelligence here

What are the 2 Biggest Mistakes Managers make in Dealing with Bullying and Harassment?

What are the 2 biggest mistakes managers make in dealing with bullying and harassment?

In the 25 odd years I’ve been working with bullying and harassment, there are 2 main areas that managers ignore at their peril: Management Practices and Communication.

Let’s explore these in more details…

Mistake No 1: Ignorance of your organisational practice

  1. Managers need to get hold of, go through and understand the policies, procedures and practices of the organisation. We live in a fast-paced environment and don’t have time to go through these documents in order to get a better understanding of what they actually mean. And, sometimes we get promoted on merit and to go and ask someone for help may mean exposing yourself leading to you “losing face”.
  2. For the sake of the overall good of our teams and organisations, we have to ask questions if we are not sure about what our policies and procedures mean.
  3. Go and talk to the “Village Elders” – those individuals in a company who are wise and have deep knowledge and experience in the area you are seeking help with. Seek help of the organisational elder.
  4. As a leader you have to take the initiative if you don’t know the answer to something. The problem is that there is a real fear that if a leader doesn’t know something, that if they share this they will be seen as incompetent.
  5. Workers will give you far more credence if you admit you don’t know and tell them you will find out, rather than bluff your way through it because in this day and age, you may have people in your team who know the correct answer/process etc. This way everyone learns.

We can share what we find out and so involve the whole team in the experience. This has a roll-over effect as people will feel less fearful of asking you something if they don’t know in future because you were prepared to tell them you didn’t know something.

Managers need to get hold of, go through and understand the policies, procedures and practices of the organisation. We live in a fast-paced environment and don’t have time to go through these documents in order to get a better understanding of what they actually mean. And, sometimes we get promoted on merit and to go and ask someone for help may mean exposing yourself leading to you “losing face”.

Mistake No 2: Lack of communication

  1. You have to communicate so your people understand your message. In every communication, the other person may not understand what you are saying.
    1a. Everyone has their own internal and external pressures.
    1b. Everyone also has their own demons to deal with which may impact on the work we do.
  2. Communication also ties back to the other part of management relating to performance, namely Performance Management. Performance Management is about understanding what impacts your people on a daily basis which affects their performance and productivity. Rather than berating your people for not achieving, find out the triggers. Why is this important? Because communication cannot reveal mental pressures people are experiencing. Be aware that what you are saying to one person will need to be delivered differently to another person.
  3. If things start to go south, your direct manager needs to be informed and will hopefully be supportive and act with authority in backing you when and if the need arises.
  4. HR consultants and organisational representatives will also need to be kept in the loop as you move from the day to day Performance Management to Performance Improvement Conversations which are the pre-cursor to PIP’s or Performance Improvement Plans


Proactively dealing with Bullying and Harassment is about working within organisational frameworks and building relationships.

  1. Your Framework will come from the organisation’s policies and procedures – if you don’t know what these are, then it is your responsibility as a manager to find out.  Current legislation by state and territory is also a crucial complement to your organisational policies and procedures.  From an Australian perspective, the following is a useful link: https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/employers/workplace-bullying-violence-harassment-and- bullying-fact-sheet. If you don’t have any policies and procedures in your organisation, you would be well-advised to seek council and get this organised as quickly as you can.
  2. Building Relationships is your priority because it gives you permission to be yourself and ask questions to understand your people on an individual basis so that you can leverage this for performance and productivity.

If you are interested in learning more about what you can practically do to deal with bullying and harassment in your organisation, sign up to get the full interview with Bernie here:

The full interview includes:


A working definition of bullying and harassment in Australia


The 2 keys to successfully managing bullying and harassment


The practical truths about what you need to know as a manager in relation to bullying and harassment


What you should do when a staff member is out to use the system against you as a manager


What to do if HR and other parts of the business are not supporting you


What happens when the bullying turns personal


What types of conversations you should be having with your staff


A practical tool called the “10 Rules of Management” to help you manage your team and performance to avoid negative behaviours


A checklist on what to do if you suspect you are being bullied


Access to additional online and real-time resources to help managers


With a career of almost thirty five years’ as a police officer and several years’ experience as a self-employed consultant, Bernie has extensive experience in the areas of providing advice, support and guidance to victims/targets, alleged bullies and managers/supervisors.  He also worked in areas of risk management, workplace harassment/bullying, unlawful discrimination, workplace stress, leadership/management, occupational violence including domestic violence.

Best wishes in stepping up, be sure to leave your comments below and I’ll,

See you at the top!

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