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The onus is on leaders to create safe and respectful workplaces

By David Pich FIML


The nature of the workplace has changed. We no longer tie ourselves to a nine-to-five schedule, we work from home – even feel ‘at home’ when we’re at work. It’s not surprising then that in IML ANZ’s 2018 National Salary Survey, we found an increase in the number of workers who left jobs due to a lack of flexibility. It’s now an expectation and simply the way the modern workplace operates.

What that then means is in many cases, the lines that separate the workplace and home become blurred. The home can become a workplace or people may start to see the workplace as a home. Here lies the direct link to safety.

As a leader, we put measures in place to maintain safety in the workplace – physical or psychological. But the changed nature of work means you must go beyond that. Ask the question: “Are the homes of the people in my team a safe environment?” Not to pry, but to know if this requires your attention as their leader.

It matters because if one in five people who’ve experienced harassment say that this is a common occurrence in their workplaces, and they also experience some form of abuse at home, where do they go for respite? We spend a lot of time and invest a lot of effort in the workplace, therefore we all deserve to feel safe there.

Of course, safety isn’t just about the absence of danger but also involves feeling safe enough to speak up if a situation occurs. Robust whistle-blower policies can help in a couple of ways. First, it maps out exactly what actions people can take to combat abuse and harassment in the workplace. More importantly, it sends a strong message of what your organisation considers to be acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. A policy is only as good as the people who implement it. Whilst policies are a must, you need to lift it off the page and live it.

Any form of harassment, whether it occurs at home or at work, is damaging and must be stopped. Organisations must be proactive and take the lead in preventing abuse. Are your managers prepared to act if an incident arises? Do they know how to support victims? Are they role models of the type of behaviour you’d like to see everyone displaying in your organisation?

Our actions as leaders set the tone for all those around us. When I interviewed Alan Joyce for IML ANZ’s book, Leadership Matters: 7 Skills of Very Successful Leaders, he spoke of the fundamental role leaders play in achieving buy-in and influencing the workplace culture: through actions, decisions, and messages we send. However, the culture that I’m talking about here isn’t limited to boosting engagement and results – it’s about a culture that highly values a safe and respectful workforce.

To be clear, abuse is not something the majority of us face daily. Naturally, it’s important to equip ourselves as people leaders on how to handle bullying, harassment and abuse, regardless if it occurs at home or in the workplace. I invite all managers and leaders to seek out ways to understand the reality that abuse, harassment, domestic violence and bullying is real and more common than you might think. Arm yourself with strategies, plans and a deep awareness of how to effectively handle what will most likely be a delicate situation.

Beyond all our other targets, goals and results – we are responsible for people. They give a significant amount of their time, effort and commitment to ensure targets are hit, goals are achieved and results are delivered. We owe it to our teams, as fellow workers – as human beings – to provide an environment where no one must look over their shoulder in fear of abuse. The time to act is now. Waiting until an event occurs is no longer good enough (if it ever was!).

David is the Chief Executive of IML ANZ. Learn what you can do as a leader to create a safe and respectful workplace at IML ANZ’s Leadership Outlook series 2019.

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