January 31st, 2015
Training in workplace bullying/abusive conduct is necessary but not sufficient
In 2015, California law mandates that supervisors in all firms with 50 or more employees receive “training” in abusive conduct. The term “abusive conduct” was lifted from the WBI Healthy Workplace Bill language we have been using since 2003 to introduce and pass a comprehensive law against workplace bullying.
Training done right can overcome deficits in skills. Training is the wrong tool to reverse immoral conduct. But training is useful to make everyone aware that misconduct is happening.
Training backfires when it teaches there is a problem and the organization has no procedures in place to deal with the misconduct. It’s clear that only a small (5.5%) of American employers have the will to actually prevent or correct health-harming abusive conduct. No effective state laws have yet been enacted to compel employer compliance. So, few have good policies. Even fewer have the voluntary desire to stop it. No laws; no policies; lazy employers.
When supervisors get trained, in the best possible way — live, interactive, Q&A sessions, employee expectations will rise. Everyone will wonder when and how the bullying will end in their workplace. If employer actions are limited to supervisor training, very little will be done. Employee distrust and disengagement will follow.
Another concern is how will the training be conducted? The new law based on AB 2053, adds training in abusive conduct (which is currently legal) to the requisite training in sexual harassment (which is illegal). The mix will not only confuse employees; most employers don’t know the difference. Workers will be expecting policies for bullying to apply that don’t exist.
It is alarming to find that many employers post online slide shows to educate workers about sexual harassment. It’s a joke that no one takes seriously. A slide show with little content and no interaction. Really, how lazy can employers be. It’s called “compliance.” Given the complexity of bullying’s effect on the entire workplace and the fact that current sex harass trainers and conflict resolution professionals don’t understand bullying, we fear for the future.
In other words, disembodied training can do more harm than good. Beware of premature awareness!
Training should be preceded by a commitment by leadership to stopping bullying. Then, organizational prevalence should be determined. Next, a code or policy or set of behavioral expectations must be created along with procedures to correct confirmed violators. Then, and only then, should training be undertaken.
If you know of, or are, a California employer, contact WBI for help addressing the problem that will comply with the law and help your organization at the same time. We have also produced a 20 min. DVD to introduce Abusive Conduct to organizations.
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