Action against bullying

Last month a National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence took place in Australia. Workplace bullying is a growing concern but it is something that each of us can take action against.

Kate Carnell, CEO of Beyondblue, suggests following the mantra: ‘If you see it, call it’, because when you don’t, you could be sending the message that bullying behaviour is ok.

Clearly something needs to be done to make bullies understand their behaviour is unacceptable; UMR Research says that one in three workers have been bullied at work. Micromanaging unfairly, taking credit for someone else’s work or ideas, blaming someone else for your mistakes, verbal abuse and unjustified criticism are the main forms of workplace bullying.

Discussion questions

How do you know whether someone is being bullied in your work team by another team member? How sure are you that some of your actions or comments could not be interpreted as unfair or even bullying?


Foul phrases

A few weeks ago I spoke with Annette Marner on her ABC Afternoons radio show about turning foul phrases that invite resentment into magic phrases that invite cooperation. I reckon there are twelve categories of foul phrases, the first being the kind your mother made you wash your mouth out with soap for saying!

Another category is the Yes, but and Yes, however…. When people hear those phrases, they know bad news is coming. When you substitute the ‘but‘ with an ‘and‘ your message becomes much more acceptable. You did a good job on that but … becomes You did a good job on that and … (one way to really polish it up might be too …)

Negative foul phrases are the third category. Just as words reveal our thoughts, they also lead our thoughts, and that’s why it’s important to choose positive words and phrases over negative words and phrases; doing that turns them into magic phrases. I can’t do that until next week becomes I can do that next week.

Other foul phrases are emotive and offensive and put people off side. Much better to be objective and clear, which makes your comments easier for people to take on board. Your work is careless becomes Your work is often inaccurate.

The next two types of foul phrases invite our minds to wander. You can make passive phrases like The policy was discussed by the committee less officious by making them active: The committee discussed the policy.

Wordy phrases bring on the yawns, too: For the purpose of … (simply say to …); In the event that … (just say if); Take into consideration (just say consider). You get the picture, and if you don’t, check out pages 128 to 129 of the text.

Vague phrases leave people hanging. Don’t just say I’ll contact you; say how: I’ll Skype you, FaceTime you, email you, phone you …

Bureaucratic phrases like You are required to … (fill in this form) and You’ll have to … (fill in this form) invite the opposite of cooperation. Much better to make them less pushy and self-important with a bit of politeness: Would you please … (fill in this form) or As soon as you’ve filled in this form) I can … or I’ll need this form completed by Tuesday because …

Confrontative phrases are the ninth type of foul phrases. You should…; You never…; You always … create arguments. The trick here is to tell the person what you do want, not what you don’t want. So instead of You never clean up after yourself becomes Please tidy the kitchen area when you’ve finished your snack. That gets you far more cooperation. Or you could say From now on … or Next time … That’s also good when someone has done something you don’t want them to do again.

Pompous phrases like Further notification will follow are another type of foul phrase that people often use out of habit or because they think it somehow sounds impressive. Make them more human; you could say I’ll keep you informed.

The eleventh category is feeble phrases like I’l try to have it ready o Monday. People ignore the ‘try’ anyway, so you may as well commit to Monday yourself.

Finally come the why phrases. These are foul because they’re often heard as a challenge and make people defensive. So instead of asking Why did you do that? you might ask What led to your decision to do that?

Discussion questions

Are you in the habit of using any of those foul phrases in your workplace? Think of some examples of foul phrases you’ve used and some up with some more positive alternatives.

Employee voice

How carefully and how often do you listen to your team members? Social media has increased peoples’ expectations that their opinions will be heard, and feeling listened to increases employee loyalty and engagement. Listening can also improve team effectiveness – even when every idea put forward isn’t great, some will be; and even when some of the comments are complaints rather than suggestions, they can point to problems that need to be solved and procedures that need to be streamlined.

Listen to people individually and listen to the team as a whole in team meetings, where ideas can be shared and built upon and enthusiasm generated.

The other side of the coin is communicating with your team about company updates and issues. People want to feel ‘in’ on the bigger picture and know what’s going on in the organisation as a whole, how well it’s doing, what plans are being made, and how they’re contributing.

Research by the  Cornell National Social Survey (CNSS) and James R Detert from Cornell shows that employees keep opinions and ideas to themselves because they think it’s a waste of time to speak up (26%) as well as because of fear of retribution (20%).

Although the CNSS sample was small (only 439 respondents who worked full time and were not self-employed), it also found that men and professional employees are just as likely to withhold information and ideas as women and nonprofessional employees and that even employees who seem to speak openly to their managers periodically hold back when they feel they have nothing to gain, or something to lose, by sharing what’s on their minds.

Discussion questions

How do you signal your team members that you’re open to their thoughts and suggestions? What might stop them holding their thoughts and suggestions back? How do you ensure that team members know it’s worthwhile to speak up?

BNZ’s award-winning gender equality strategy

On 7 March 2013, the  Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) was one of five companies worldwide to receive an inaugural Benchmarking for Change Award from the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles group for successfully promoting gender equality.

In 2010, CEO Andrew Thorburn signed up to the UN’s seven women’s empowerment principles and made improving gender equality one of the bank’s top three priorities. Far from a ‘numbers game’, the Bank wanted smart, diverse-thinking women to keep pace with New Zealand’s changing demographics and to add value to debates and decision-making at board and senior management level.

To this end, BNZ raised awareness and understanding about the benefits of gender equality, researched barriers for women at the Bank, identified talented women for development and succession planning, improved recruitment by setting targets for women candidates (every role at BNZ must have women candidates on its short list), measured the roles performed by men and women to ensure they are receiving equal pay for equal work, and established a diversity council.

Barriers to gender equality included the usual suspects: lack of leadership commitment, old boy’s networks, systemic barriers and unclear career pathways for women. BNZ also realised it was losing women at middle management level and introduced career development programs and career paths to retain them. One of the biggest issues for women was flexible working and BNZ now has a standardised flexible working policy that applies to every job in the bank and which is tracked monthly.

As a result, almost half (four out of nine) of the members of BNZ’s executive team are women (up from one woman), and subsidiary boards have 27% female membership (up from 6%).

The Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEP) are seven standards for empowering women that 542 companies around the world have so far signed up to. The seven Women’s Empowerment Principles are:

  1. Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality.
  2. Treat all women and men fairly at work – respect and support human rights and nondiscrimination.
  3. Ensure the health, safety and well-being of all women and men workers.
  4. Promote education, training and professional development for women.
  5. Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women.
  6. Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy.
  7. Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality.

Discussion questions

What are the barriers to diversity in your work team? How would greater diversity (gender and other types of diversity) add value to your team and its ability to meet or exceed its goals? How well does your work team and your organisation embody the seven empowerment principles listed above?