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Bullying or Performance Management? Do You Know the Line?

Rebecca Cushway
Rebecca Cushway

Workplace Bullying is a modern workplace cancer; its symptoms and impacts can be subtle or severe and are uncovered in expected and unexpected settings. Even though legal measures are now in place under various Workplace Health and Safety Acts to prevent and prosecute Workplace Bullying, implementing practical strategies to work civilly and productively continue to be a challenge for many Australian Workplaces.  

Safe Work Australia defines Workplace Bullying as repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety. Repeated behaviour refers to the persistent nature of the behaviour and can involve a range of behaviours over time. Unreasonable behaviour means behaviour that a reasonable person, having considered the circumstances, would see as unreasonable including behaviour that is victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening.

Psychological facts about Workplace Bullying that might surprise you!

1. Not all bullying behaviours are intentional. In most cases people who bully in one environment do not bully in another. Bullying behaviour is learned and most often occurs within a specific context or due to frustration. People sometimes use bullying tactics as a survival strategy to avoid being targeted in an organisation.

2. Not all bullying is between a direct manager and a staff member. Peer bullying is very common and upward bullying is also prevalent in some organisations.

3. People who bully are not necessarily psychopathic or have a personality disorder. Less than 4% of the population have psychopathic traits or personality disorders and account for the vast minority of perpetrators. Most perpetrators are normal people who find themselves under pressure or mindlessly mimicking the social norm in their workplace.

4. Targets of bullying are not necessarily weak or incompetent. In fact there are a host of reasons why people are targeted; from being different in some way, to speaking out, to being a high performer or being vulnerable.
5. Bullying occurs in the workplace most commonly as a result of a range of workplace risks linked to the broader organisation. Factors including poor communication, high work demands, lack of role clarity or control, inflexibility and ambiguity increase the likelihood of workplace bullying.

6. 12% of people who are bullied suffer no impact, 50% suffer moderately and 38% are severely impacted and are diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

7. 65% of targets have symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Adjustment Disorder five years later

8. Witnesses and bystanders of bullying are impacted and can suffer secondary trauma, anxiety, lack of productivity

9. Australian Productivity Commission estimates bullying and harassment costs the economy up to $36 billion per annum.

10. There is a clear line between bullying and performance management, yet a large proportion of bullying claims between line managers and staff members relate to these scenarios.

The frustration of employers when dealing with employees who are not performing can easily escalate in the workplace. Yet poor handling of performance management and a lack of attention by employers to mitigating the workplace factors contribute to underperformance need to be dealt with first to ensure performance management is actually fair and effective.

What is the line between bullying and performance management?

It might sound like management 101, yet the implementation of performance management is often adversarial and misunderstood. Performance Management is the process of getting the best possible outcomes from staff, however is commonly associated with doing a bad job and being managed out.  Underperformance is a reality in the workplace.
The principles of performance managing are the same regardless of whether we are setting up a promising employee to succeed or dealing with an under-performing employee and apply to both task and workplace behavioural. Performance Management should be reasonable, consistent and helpful.

1. Manage risk factors in the environment first. If the task requires communication between difficult people or the tools to complete the job are not readily available, performance management should not be your first step. These risks should be mitigated or accounted for first.

2. Set clear expectations for quantity, deadlines and quality of work. Most managers are capable of setting deadlines and goals; yet do not clearly define the fuzzy or qualitative criteria of what success or failure might look like. Most managers know what a good and a bad report look like, yet do not distinguish this with their staff; and become frustrated when they have to send and resend the report back for rework.

3. Check for understanding of expectations and help re-prioritise other workload if the employee is unable to deliver on time. Reasonableness regarding the role should be reflected in the level and complexity of the work.

4. Make sure available support or guidance is available to the employee and set up checking in so both of your needs are met throughout the process. To avoid frustration, established check in points at the time of delegating the task to avoid being accused of micro-managing.

5. Review along the way against your original expectations of quality, quantity and deadlines keeping appraisals objective and fair.

6. Workshop solutions to obstacles that are encountered and ensure employees are responsible for what is in their control not what is out of their control.

7. Manage your relationship with the employee. Positive feedback and encouragement goes a long way and assists employees being able to take on criticism when it is warranted. Praising effort, attitude and perseverance is a valuable way of maintaining the relationship.

Published on by BiziNet

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