Why ‘inappropriate behaviour’ is more accurate than ‘bullying at work’

Whether or not employees feel good at work has a significant influence on their productivity. Mutual relationships between colleagues play an important role in this. Is there something wrong with the working atmosphere? Then this will be reflected in the absenteeism and turnover rates. One of the factors that can have a negative influence is bullying at work.

The extreme forms of physical bullying at work that make the news are rare. This concerns subtler forms of bullying behaviour, such as ignoring or verbal bullying. But what is called bullying behaviour often appears to be due to poor management, miscommunication, or stress.

Therefore, the law on psychosocial risks was amended in September 2014. It outlines a broader framework that not only covers bullying, but also delves into inappropriate behaviour in a broader context. Today, the law also pays attention to other psychosocial risks such as stress and burnout.

Shared responsibilities

However, the situation isn’t black and white. It is more about personal boundaries being crossed, and this is not always intended to be malicious. There are multiple actors in a partnership that’s going wrong. Furthermore, structural and organisational problems can be at the basis of (alleged) bullying behaviour. For example, a conflict between two colleagues can be rooted in a lack of clear instructions, making them think they have the same tasks.

Two-pronged approach

Preventing inappropriate behaviour starts with a risk analysis of the psychosocial risks. This brings organisational and structural issues to light. It is also important to address conflicts decisively. Consultation and mediation are the first priority. Employees can contact you or the confidential adviser within your organisation for this purpose. If not, the Health and Safety Officer for psychosocial aspects is ready to help.

Training courses on respect in the workplace will increase understanding and improve mutual relations. Individual counselling – to strengthen one’s resilience – is also possible. Sanctioning or moving employees to another department is the last step when dealing with seriously inappropriate behaviour.

Recognition and clear boundaries

How can you, as a manager, prevent inappropriate behaviour at work?

  1. It is important that you set boundaries and clearly indicate what will not be tolerated. A clear code of conduct is a benchmark for every employee.
  2. You must personally set a good example. Showing appreciation and not being overly authoritarian are important: sometimes the style of leadership can make employees feel bullied.
  3. Keep your eyes and ears open and quickly resolve conflicts so that the situation does not escalate. Discuss the problem quickly with the parties involved.
  4. Working on an open culture in the workplace, making room for consultation, and forging a good bond with your employees also makes problems easier to discuss. A lower threshold to consult with you or others prevents conflicts from continuing to fester. Providing a fixed consultation hour is a clear signal that you want to make time to talk to those who need it.
  5. Lastly, create a clear organisational structure with clear instructions and defined roles.