Say NO to workplace bullying!

The best solution to workplace bullying and harassment is not to let it happen in the first place.

Because, whatever the rights and wrongs of any case, if matters get to the state of complaints or legal proceedings, there is already a loss of trust, which will impact work relationships.

That is what is called a “no-brainer”! But it is easier said than done, especially in an industry like hospitality and catering.

The way bullying and harassment are perceived has changed significantly over the past decade and will continue to change.

Risk factors for harassment at work

If you want to avoid bad situations developing, its best to identify the risks. So here is a checklist of risk factors. It was compiled by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but the same risks exist in Europe:

1. Homogenous workforces.

If most of the employees in a work group come from similar backgrounds, there may be an elevated risk of employees who don’t conform to workplace norms feeling excluded or vulnerable.

2. Workplaces where some workers don’t conform to workplace norms.

For example, in cases where some workers refuse to join in with, or object to, offensive “banter”.

3. Cultural and language differences in the workplace.

This might seem at odds with the first risk identified above. Diversity is good, but tensions can arise if there is a significant number of people who speak a different language or are perceived as “not fitting in” culturally, so as an employer you need to be sensitive to this.

4. Coarsened social discourse outside the workplace.

What’s going on in the outside world can and often have an impact on what happens inside. This has, unfortunately, been the case in the United Kingdom with the febrile atmosphere created by the Brexit process.

5. Workforces with many young workers.

In the restaurants, bars and hospitality business in particular, there are a lot of young workers. Even if they are intelligent people, they may lack the intellectual and emotional maturity to understand the consequences of harassment. They may also be unaware of workplace norms. And they are often emotionally vulnerable themselves.

6. Workplaces with “high-value” employees who may think workplace rules “don’t apply” to them. (Sometimes known as prima donnas.)

If a bar steward or Maître D’ is an “invaluable asset” to a business, managers may be reluctant to intervene to stop harassment.

7. Workplaces with significant power disparities.

There are significant power disparities between different groups of workers in most workplaces. You need to ensure that these are not exploited, for example by providing a mechanism for less powerful workers (e.g. recent joiners) to report any abuse without fear of reprisals.

8. Workplaces that rely on customer service or client satisfaction.

This is obviously a big one in bars and restaurants where staff are dependent on tipping. A tipped worker may feel compelled to tolerate inappropriate and harassing behaviour rather than suffer the financial loss of a good tip. (Note for our American friends: this is a good reason to pay your staff a living wage.)

9. Workplaces where work is monotonous or consists of low-intensity tasks.

Harassment may be less likely to happen in busy periods, whereas during the slack periods harassment or bullying behaviour may become a way to vent frustration or avoid boredom

10. Isolated workspaces.

Harassment often occurs when there are no witnesses to bad behaviour, for example chambermaids cleaning individual hotel rooms.

11. Workplace cultures that tolerate or encourage alcohol consumption.

If you own or manage a bar or restaurant where the consumption of alcohol is part of the business, you need always to bear in mind that this can impair judgement and reduce social inhibitions. Intoxication is no excuse for harassment.

12. Decentralised workplaces.

Multi-site businesses such as restaurant chains issue codes of conduct but when the corporate offices are far removed physically and/or organisationally from front-line employees, some managers may feel (or may actually be) unaccountable for their behaviour and may act outside the bounds of workplace rules.

Create an inclusive workplace

Those are the risk factors to be aware of. But an even more effective approach is to take action to create a truly inclusive workplace. To do this you can:

1. Tailor your job descriptions

Make sure job descriptions are tailored to the actual job being performed and have a hiring process in place that involves multiple people who review candidates. This way you are more likely to get a good mix.

2. Get people involved

Let employees know that everyone plays a role in preventing discrimination and harassment, from the CEO to waiting staff.

3. Give them proper training

Rather than go through the motions of anti-harassment training, it may be worth bringing in an HR consultant who can target your training to your particular workforce and include real-life examples.

4. Encourage whistle-blowing on harassment and bullying

In particular, you must be very careful to treat an employee who complains as you treated the employee before he or she raised the complaint. There must be no “retaliation”.

5. Document complaints

Document any complaints that are levelled and give the accused person the opportunity to respond.

6. Focus on the issue first

Try to keep the focus on the issue, not the individuals, until harassment is clearly proven. This can be really tough in some situations. But it is important not only to be objective, but to be seen to be objective.