Workplace Bullying Investigations Highlight Need For Trilogy of Training for Managers

Workplace Bullying Investigations Highlight Need For Trilogy of Training for Managers

Mental ill-health conditions not a reason to ignore or excuse poor workplace behaviour, but providing support is essential.


A recent observation made by  iHR Australia’s Workplace Relations Director John Boardman is that parties to a workplace investigation are often  suffering mental ill health  or are mentally fragile prior to the lodgement of a formal complaint. Mr Boardman’s experience is consistent with figures suggesting that 15 to 30 percent of Australian workers experience mental ill-health at some point in their work life.  These conditions are not always work related but almost always impact on a person’s ability to work with those around them.

iHR Australia and World Learning Hub manager training stresses that whatever the root cause of unreasonable behaviour, managers need to deal with it. Even in the case that  a staff member behaving inappropriately has a mental ill-health condition, there is an onus on a manager to take appropriate action to prevent the behaviour from continuing. When conducting a workplace investigation,  a person’s health condition is a mitigating factor that needs to be  separated from the finding of fact regarding the alleged behaviour. Mr Boardman emphasises that the workplace investigator is charged with identifying whether or not there is substance to an allegation of workplace bullying, not to identify a person’s mental well-being. Similarly a manager who becomes aware of poor behaviour in the workplace is charged with ensuring it ceases, not just accepting or working around the person’s mental health issue. Not to deal with the poor behaviour in the workplace could be negligence, especially if the behaviour has the potential to cause physical or psychological damage to others. It is appropriate to make reasonable adjustment to assist employees with a mental disability; but not at the expense of the health and safety of other workplace participants, Mr. Boardman said.

However, if  in the context of a bullying allegation or just everyday work life, a manager is concerned for a staff member’s mental well-being, he or she has a moral and legal obligation on them to do something. That ‘something’ could be to talk to the  person directly and confidentially about concerns for their well-being, providing access to professional support services or having a confidential discussion with a one up manager or human resource professional. Managers, themselves, should expect to be supported by the organisation when dealing with the sensitivities surrounding mental ill-health. They should also be supported if they are dealing with the complexities of poor behaviour that may be caused by mental ill health.

John Boardman’s insights reinforce the importance of manager education in two spheres. First, in relation to addressing inappropriate behaviour and, second on conducting a discussion when they are concerned about the mental well-being of a staff member. Along with training on Anti-Discrimination, harassment and bullying, these two areas make up a trilogy of essential learning for all those in leadership roles.

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