Published on Tuesday 8th of July 2008
Conflict is pervasive in all layers of society. It is part of life. Conflict is rooted in real and perceived differences of interests according to the position which individuals occupy in a social system. Conflicts can be psychological or cultural when it focuses on the perceptions, beliefs and behaviour of the parties involved. The causes of conflict are varied: economic, political repression, ethnic, religious and hatred.
For this purpose I will concentrate in conflict in the workplace. Conflict in the workplace translates into bullying, intimidation, sexual harassment, psychological torture, ostracism and other kinds of discrimination.
The definition of workplace bullying could be said that it is the repeated inappropriate behaviour, direct or indirect, verbal, physical or otherwise, conducted by one or more person against an individual or more at the place of employment. It is a serious social condition that should not be tolerated.
It is reported that half of the adult population has experienced some type of discrimination in the workplace. This sort of reports is just recently being investigated and information and legislation is still being sought to help solve some of the problems.
Bullying can be perpetrated by employees to employees, employees to subordinates and subordinates to supervisors. The most common are the supervisors towards subordinates where the principle relating to bullying applies with greater force because of the power and authority the supervisor has over the subordinate. Usually this kind of discrimination is directed at people because they are weaker, or from a different race and/or colour, religion, gender. The perpetrator acts abusively and disrespectful to the victim by offending, degrading and humiliating. This sort of behaviour can undermine morale and productivity and damage the health of employees.
The workplace is a very important part of our lives as most of us spend a great deal of time at work. So much of our sense of identity depends on how happy we are with our relationships at work. People need to feel respected and treated with dignity.
Bullying if not stopped can lead to violence and/or ill health. However often there is no violence, just a relentless ‘picking’ on someone by one or more people. To be ‘picked on’ by somebody signifies that a person is having his efforts undervalued, is being public humiliated and teased. It can also get nasty and the victim may be removed from a position of responsibility without consultation, or given unrealistic dead lines, and treated in a demeaning and condescending way. Some times bullying can be very subtle; the perpetrator may use negative facial expression and ostracism. There are also some cases where employees join forces to undermine a superior. In this case, employees act in a subtle way as well but fail to carry out instructions or carry them out poorly and interrupt the superior at meetings at inadequate times.
Employers should be aware that bullying and intimidation couldn’t happen unless there is a climate that allows it to flourish. If that is the case, conflicts will go unreported and both employer and employees will find themselves in a lose-lose situation. The result is health breakdown, lethargy, anger and loss of productivity, loss of confidence and lack of motivation.
Organisations that ignore conflicts at work hoping it will go away are disappointed because it only gets worse. An employee that gets away with acting disrespectfully towards co-workers can prompt others to act as ‘copycats’.
Bullying and all other kinds of harassment should be nipped in the bud as soon as possible. Timing is crucial, the nature of bullying can be very debilitating and if action is delayed, it can lead to violence and/or irreparable damage to employee’s relations.
Many companies have a ‘Work Place Conduct Policy’ where it spells out procedures for reporting and investigating concerns about inappropriate behaviour. The 'Anti-Discrimination Commission of Queensland' is the government body responsible for the legislation and investigation of workplace conflicts. Its role is to "uphold the basic right of all people to fair treatment no matter what their circumstances or background". Prevention is the best policy; however prevention can be difficult because it often involves changing the very culture of the workplace.
Education is a good start to change the culture and attitude of workers.Education will make perpetrators aware of the plight of the victim and its consequence relating to health and stress problems. Education will also teach managers and supervisors to know their role in reporting, documenting and investigating cases. It will make them aware of the importance of role modelling in the work place. All employees will know their rights and responsibilities so that they can demand to be treated with respect and dignity.
If the workplace “Code of Conduct” fails to help, there is always the federal and state legislation regarding Anti-discrimination and Sexual Harassment Board, the WorkPlace Health and Safety Legislation and the Trade Union. Legislation will raise public consciousness to the fact that bullying is not a private matter but a public issue. These organs will give practical guidance and provide organisations with a reference point from which to offer advice and assistance.
A world free of hostility is probably impossible but a hostility-free workplace should be feasible with vigilance and a little tact to the benefit of employer and employees.
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