With the spotlight on discrimination and power in the workplace, it’s time to examine how disrespectful workplace behaviour is allowed to flourish – and start building a culture of inclusion.
Workplace harassment isn’t restricted to Hollywood: three-quarters of employees say they’ve witnessed or experienced it first-hand. Yet just 11% of managers report having grievances raised against them. Given that workplace bullying leads to increased absenteeism to the tune of £18 billion a year, plus greater staff turnover, lower morale and up to a 52% drop in productivity – not to mention being a predictor of mental health problems – it’s clear that the #MeToo movement didn’t come soon enough.
Fixing the problem isn’t about weeding out ‘bad apples’. A miniscule minority set out to bully, harass or actively discriminate. Far more common are those who overlook an offensive joke, partake in gossip behind closed doors, or subtly and unintentionally exclude people who are unlike them. Being excluded has the same neurological impact as physical pain – and feeling psychologically unsafe in the workplace as a result spells disaster for productivity, innovation and morale.
We need more than a witch hunt to make the workplace psychologically safe for all. Psychologists have identified a ‘toxic triangle’ of factors that lead to a breakdown of respect: the combination of dysfunctional leaders, susceptible followers, and a conducive environment create a perfect storm for toxic relationships to arise. Building a culture of respect means addressing them all.
Culture change begins at the top – which is in itself problematic, because power can all too easily lead behaviour astray. Once leaders recognise the potentially harmful consequences of power, they’ll be in a better position to role model what inclusivity looks like.
Susceptible followers are those who might notice questionable conduct, but feel powerless to change anything. So they stay silent. By equipping everyone at every level with the tools to call out behaviour that sits in the murky area between harmless and harmful, we can create an environment where employees hold each other to account for respectful behaviour.
There’s no quick fix for culture change. But Mind Gym’s Instant Respect Accelerator programme is a good place to start. Over the course of four challenging, thought-provoking sessions, managers and individuals will get an insight into their own natural biases and the risks these pose, as well as a practical toolkit to not only prevent bullying and harassment but build a climate of respect and inclusion where everybody feels psychologically safe to do their best work.
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