Recently in Melbourne there was a story released about a nurse from the Royal Melbourne Hospital who took his life in September 2015. Allegedly, this was the result of bullying that had occurred at his workplace.
The State Coroner in Victoria is currently investigating this matter. It will consider, amongst other things, that allegations of assault and bullying were made in January of last year against a senior doctor. It is understood that the nurse had told management he’d been punched by the doctor while helping to prepare a patient for surgery.
It’s an extremely tough subject and it seems that there’s a systemic issue that pervades our workplace and which arises from a failure to report or challenge behaviours that we know to be wrong.
We are seeing this played out right now in relation to evidence that is being presented to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and ongoing reporting of sexual abuse within the TV and film industry that dates back over 30 years.
My question is not in relation to what makes people commit these heinous acts of sexual abuse and bullying, but it is directed at those of us in positions of power in the workplace: how is it under our watch that these things occur? I never want to hear or see another court or media report that says the issue is endemic and cultural.
Setting Standards for All to Follow
We can and must create a culture within our organisation that acknowledges that sexual harassment and bullying does in fact happen in the workplace. We must then place the onus on the collective majority to do what’s right and decent. Whether someone is a star surgeon, or holds a senior position of management should not excuse them in any way from being subject to the same standards of decency and respect that is expected from all employees.
Real-Life Scenarios to Learn From
As I mentioned in my last blog post, it is an organisation’s responsibility to ensure that employees have a safe and healthy workplace, but it’s also the responsibility of the employees to understand the expectations regarding appropriate workplace behaviour. Whether that entails a thorough compliance training programme is up to your internal L&D teams, but it shouldn’t be ignored when workplace risks are increasing, and staff need to be compliant with these policies to ensure standards are set amongst the entire team from the top-down.
Compliance training should allow learners to experience risk, empathise with different points of view, and see the consequences of decisions being made, no matter how real the scenarios play out. But working in the compliance space, I encounter more frequently an adversity to training that uses confronting scenarios or examples of how this behaviour can play out in real life, than organisations willing to confront their workers and initiate a genuine change.
Sensitivities to real -life cases used in eLearning is why these concepts and narratives can be a powerful tool. For example, one of our modules that focuses on sexual harassment in the workplace uses an actual event where a surgeon had sexually harassed a nurse at their hospital. This content is not designed to offend those critical high-level members of staff: doctors or surgeons. Instead, it offers an authentic and poignant example of what is needed to educate susceptible workplaces.
Why it Works in Compliance
Take the example of schoolyard bullying. These days when schools try to educate kids on the devastation caused by bullies, they use authentic video content. Our bullying course uses real-life examples of bullying within various workplaces. Similarly, the most impactful road safety awareness campaigns are the ones featuring the families of those who’ve lost a loved one. Why? Because real content connects with the right audiences and serves to drive the point home and hypothetical cases are less effective. Instead of focussing on ticking a box, compliance training needs to ultimately change behaviour.
The Next Steps
Sexual harassment and bullying happens on our watch and sadly, it happens way too often. Putting employees at risk of these inappropriate behaviours can lead to not only financial and legal troubles for individuals and organisations, but worse, can lead to work-related suicide. The responsibility is now on us – the majority, to do something constructive before this becomes an all-too-common workplace trend.
It’s time to talk about and act on making workplaces safe again.