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Wednesday, 29 June 2016

10 easy methods preventing Reasonable Work-Requests being misconstrued as bullying: Safety@Work initiative

10 tactics preventing  Reasonable Work-Requests be misconstrued as bullying: Safety@Work initiative 

I’ve been presenting my research findings to various consultancy groups, L&D, workplace safety and HR groups to raise awareness of the synergies between negative workplace culture and disrespectful online (and offline) conduct. One of the most frequently asked questions I've fielded has been, “What is the difference between reasonable management action and (online or offline) bullying and harassment?”
Many supervisors and junior staff are worried that reasonable work requests could be misconstrued as bullying, or aren't sure how to refuse a reasonable work-request from a co-worker or staff. This type of issue often arises when functions (or organisations) merge, and roles or responsibilities overlap. Confusion can quickly lead to anxiety, frustration and manifest as disrespectful or aggressive organisational interactions. In these situations, reasonable management requests or conduct can be taken out of context, or raised incorrectly.

Takeaway #1: In times of extreme organisational change or staff churn, peoples’ anxiety and frustration levels may be higher than normal. Be crystal clear about what constitutes reasonable work behaviour or work requests, and what constitutes unreasonable (bullying) conduct.

It is extremely important to be aware, and to communicate, the differences between reasonable and unreasonable workplace behaviour during times of immense change and uncertainty. The greater the changes at work, the more likely people will become anxious about their jobs, and frightened that their responsibilities will either increase to the point of exhaustion, or reduced to the point that they lose their position. 

Takeaway #2: How to recognise and make reasonable workplace requests/ conduct?

  •  1. Link the conduct or request to a clear and justifiable work-related need. 
  • 2. Raise the work-request in a respectful and equitable manner. 
  • 3. Communicate how the work-request takes into consideration (unusual) workplace circumstances.
  •  4. Explain the outcome/effect of the request (on the work area, agency etc.).

Other factors to consider when raising reasonable work-related requests include :
  • ·        is justified by a reasonable work-related need or requirement;
  • ·        is conducted in a respectful and reasonable manner that is both fair and equitable, and links the request to the workplace and/or the individual’s roles and responsibilities;
  • ·        takes into consideration the circumstances in which the request was raised, such as an unusual work occurrence or incident;
  • ·        considers the effect of the request; and
  • ·        consider the abilities of the individual being requested.

Takeaway #3: Refusing reasonable workplace requests must be grounded in a clear work need or requirement.

Reasonable workplace grounds for refusing a request from an employee must be grounded in a work need or requirement, such as financial (cost), ongoing or existing operational requirements, capacity to reorganise work schedules, the practicality of the arrangement, or the impact or effect on a team’s efficiency, productivity, or a negative outcome on a customer service. 

Takeaway #4: Behaviour or requests that could be viewed as unreasonable.

According to SafeWork Australia, unreasonable behaviour and/or requests relates to conduct that would be viewed by a reasonable person as unreasonable.
What this means in layman’s terms is that an external and neutral person would view the work-related request or conduct as irrational, excessive, unnecessary that victimises, humiliates, intimidates or threatens the recipient. According to Gallagher-Watson, unreasonable work-related behaviors include:
  • ·        vexatious allegations, claims, accusations or assertions are made against an individual;
  • ·        Information about an individual is not based on fact, rather it conducted as slanderous gossip or unsubstantiated rumour that is spread to embarrass or defame an individual;
  • ·        an investigation that is unbiased, grossly unfair and undermines an individual’s right to natural justice (the right to a fair hearing);
  • ·        behaviour that is conducted in an arbitrary or rude manner that is either repetitive or persistent;
  • ·        a request that appears to have no logical linkage or relation to the workplace, and may be seen as either irrational and unwarranted; and
  • ·        a potential or real risk to people’s health and safety. 

Takeaway #5: Unreasonable work-related requests can result in disrespect and bullying. Without interruption, online and offline disrespectful conduct escalates up through occupational violence continuum into bullying and abuse.

Workplace bullying is defined as persistent or repeated interpersonal aggression and power imbalance between a bully(s) and their target(s) that creates a risk to health and safety@work.

One or two incidents of unreasonable behaviour does not constitute workplace bullying.
However, if the behaviours continue and are not interrupted, then the conduct may worsen and without interruption, escalate through the occupational violence continuum. Read my article on occupational violence continuum, and if you think you need effective tactics to empower  yourself during workplace confrontations, then read my article, 5 steps to regaining your control and personal power in workplace confrontations. 

Takeaway #6: Avoid accidentally asking an unreasonable work-related request by being clear about the workplace need or requirement.

Ask yourself, does this managerial request link directly with my existing or new roles and responsibilities? If you’re the manager, does the request aligns to the person’s position? If it doesn’t, this is a great opportunity to clarify any new roles and responsibilities and how these link to the organisation’s strategic goals and mission, and performance agreement. 

Takeaway #7: Be honest and communicate the circumstances underlying any unusual reasonable requests.

If the reasonable request unusual, be honest and respectfully explain the extenuating circumstances. Confirm that the person feels able (in terms of skills and experience) to progress the request. Try not to assume that silence is evidence of acceptance, and analyse why someone may refuse your reasonable request.
I once asked an EL1 in charge of an IT area to organise an out-of-hours call-out list over Christmas/New Year was stunned when he categorically refused and then walked out of my office. In hindsight, this behaviour probably simply reflected the EL1 had a skill and confidence deficit, or was mismatched with the job. 20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing! Frankly, in these cases I believe it’s best to arrange a work-around than to direct someone who may not have the necessary skills or experience to progress a work-task.

Takeaway #8: Reasonable work-requests allows time for respectful debate to imbue people with a sense of clarity, certainty and confidence.

Irrespective of our roles, responsibilities and workplace rank, every person is entitled to be treated with respect. Everyone is entitled to have the opportunity to be able to politely raise their concerns or disagreements, and encourage a respectful debate that enhances mutual understanding. Civil debate ensures everyone is clear about the work-task at hand, and feel confident about implementing it. 

Takeaway #9: Create a culture of mutual respect.

Organisations can move from aggressive to respectful cultures (culture = values, attitudes, beliefs, behaviours, norms) by a simple technique I’ve created entitled the Respectful Cultures Index, and which is based on the Civility, Respect and Engagement in the Workplace initiative.
My Index empowers all organisational members to participate in creating a corporate social contract that is modelled by everyone, irrespective of rank or position. This type of cultural shift has been proven through other research (CREW).  

Takeaway #10: Awareness, education and training.

Wherever possible, attend or offer managerial, respect and/or OHS training or courses to raise awareness of what constitutes bullying and harassment, how to manage people respectfully, and methods of handling difficult conversations. Obviously, there are a lot of courses out there that are linked to “how to make reasonable work-related requests.”

Dr Flis has a BA SSc and a PhD in organisational social psychology and works with individuals and organisations as a consultant, speaker and trainer. She uses her social science expertise to enhance interactions between organisations and the people who lead and work in them by fostering new insights for diagnosing organisational problems, and build new capabilities and culture.

Contact Dr Flis at, LinkedIn  or follow Flis on her blog Twitter or Facebook.

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