“The main benefit from working with Challenge Consulting is the guarantee of finding the best possible person for the position required.”

Wendy Tunbridge – Uniting
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For more information:
Stephen Crowe

Managing Director

Ph: 02 8042 8907

[email protected]


Almost half of Australians will be bullied at work, and our attempts to deal with workplace bullying are failing. That is the finding of research conduced by the University of Wollongong for mental health charity beyondblue. Beyondblue’s CEO, Georgie Harman, explains that the tendency for  organisations to target the individuals involved in bullying, rather than the organisation as a whole, as perpetuating the problem.

‘Strategies and policies tend to target individuals, including the perpetrator and the victim, not the organisation that allows the bullying to occur,’ Harman told the ABC. ‘We need to be targeting the organisations where there is a culture of bullying and empowering employees through communication.’

Bullying most frequently happens in the early stages of a person’s career, and young males are most likely to be victims, the research found. This correlates with the weekend’s revelations that young male police officers from Newtown police station have alleged to the NSW Civil and Administrative Review Tribunal and the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board that they have been bullied and singled out for drug testing because they are gay.

Not only is discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, race, religion, political views, disability, family responsibilities and other grounds illegal, the Productivity Commission found in 2010 that workplace bullying costs organisations between $6 billion and $36 billion a year in lost productivity.

Tackling workplace bullying at an organisational level is challenging. A recently published book, Workplace Bullying by Vice President of the Fair Work Commission Joseph Catanzariti and clinical psychologist Keryl Egan (LexisNexis 2015) sets out the legal and psychological consequences of bullying and will help those who are dealing with education, identification and risk management in relation to bullying at work. The authors state that ‘Only those leaders that are committed to dealing with workplace bullying will be able to effect the cultural change required in the workplace to effectively combat workplace bullying.’

After defining what constitutes bullying, and what does not, the book looks at the legal and risk aspects, including work health and safety laws and criminal and anti-discrimination laws. There is an extensive section on the Fair Work Act 2009.  Since 2014, workers have been able to apply to the Fair Work Commission for orders to stop workplace bullying. Catanzariti and Egan outline the legal arguments and the process, including explaining the ‘reasonable management action’ exception, by which managers can allocate work and give feedback on poor performance in a ‘reasonable manner that takes into account the circumstances of the case and do not leave the individual feeling (for example) victimised or humiliated.’

The psychological explanations of bullying and the descriptions of the mechanisms bullies use are fascinating. The book argues that despite our diversity, we have a ‘shared understanding about what it is to be human and how relationships and society work’, and when people are bullied, their core sense of self is weakened at its deepest level.

The chapter on intervention and prevention begins by stating that ‘Managing the risk of psychological injury requires a strategic decision to invest in the corporate culture with the ultimate aim of maintaining employee engagement, reducing staff turnover and preserving the reputation of the organisation as an employer of choice. Bullying is increasingly recognised as a threat to business that now approaches epidemic proportions globally.’

The book includes an extensive reading list, a detailed description of the role of the Fair Work Commission and possible outcomes of proceedings brought before it, relevant extracts from the legislation and forms. A list of resources for the prevention of bullying will be extremely useful for hiring mangers and HR departments. It includes assessment tools, development tools, and resources to help develop communication and influencing skills. An extensive index makes it easy to find information.

The authors express the hope that the next edition of the book will be different as workplaces improve their ability to deal with bullying. It is certainly in the best interests of companies and their workers to do so.

The book is available in ebook format and in hard copy from LexisNexis.


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The Challenge Consulting office is on edge. As we always are at this time of year. The level of competitiveness will soon reach fever pitch. The coveted title of ‘Tipster of the Year’ is up for grabs! It is true that some members of the Challenge Team are more excited than others about the end of the NRL Season approaching. We won’t name the tipster who elatedly declared “It is nearly over!” when made aware that this weekend is the final round of the season. Naturally they were over moon to hear that the tipping continues for four more rounds of finals action – when each correct tip will earn double points!

So as I sat down to write this week’s Challenge Blog – of course I had to use a sporting analogy. I had planned to use the recent Phil Gould spray on the Sunday Roast about head high tackles being an accepted “part of the game” as the basis of my sporting metaphor. But then Friday night happened. Two of this year’s most successful NRL Teams were involved in a brawl that has since resulted in both clubs being fined $50,000 by the NRL and 11 players facing charges, just a week out from the finals.

This week the Challenge Poll asked: “Who do you think is most responsible for managing workplace conflict?”

In the case of the Storm versus Sea Eagles, there have been varying views as to responsibility: Wayne Bennett (Coach for St George Illawarra Dragons) – declared “The players have got to be accountable. We just can’t keep blaming someone else”, whilst Monday morning NRL Chief Executive David Gallop weighed in to say: “This isn’t a time for anyone to be looking for excuses or deflecting blame to others … both clubs need to face up to their responsibility for the overall behaviour of their players.” Whilst pointing out “As much as we are keen to take any lessons that can be taken I stress that anyone who blames the referee for what happened on Friday night is wrong and that they are looking to escape the real issue at hand.” Perhaps the real issue at hand is the question of how did the culture of the NRL get to the point that this year’s two most successful teams participated in such an ugly brawl?

Our recent Challenge Consulting Poll suggested that mostly the buck needs to stop with Line Managers, with 52% of respondents suggesting that Line Managers were mostly responsible for managing workplace conflict. The remainder of the votes were split pretty evenly amongst: HR, Senior Management, and Co-Workers, with a handful of voters selecting: ‘other’ and confirmed that managing Workplace Conflict is the responsibility of everyone. But what role should everyone play or how can we help Line Managers to ensure that conflict doesn’t become counterproductive?

►      “Each and every one of us is responsible. As much as line/senior managers should step in where necessary -it is up to all of us.”

►      “While Senior Management should ultimately be held accountable, HR should provide the strategic guidance and tools for management to be effective in the management of conflict.”

►      “Everybody should share this responsibility. Effective policies and procedures will empower all staff to recognise conflict appropriately, deal with it in a professional way, and limit the negative effects on the rest of the business.”

During the recent Challenge Consulting discussion forum we discussed that conflict based on tasks and ideas is not always negative if managed effectively. In fact, a lack of conflict in some teams can be a sign of dysfunction. But we do know that conflict not managed proactively or effectively can have a range of negative consequences*, and can escalate out of control, much like what we saw on Friday night. During the Discussion Forum we explored the different conflict management styles people adopt, and confirmed that some organisations through their procedures, environment, and culture may escalate counter-productive workplace conflict**. Some could say that the examples of players pushing the boundaries of acceptable behaviour over the last few weeks may have influenced the conflict we saw on Friday night. But does this deny responsibility? No.

Each one of us, regardless of level in the organisation, has responsibility for creating an environment where we can be our most productive. Senior Management needs to lead the way through their behaviour and actions. HR needs to help in developing the framework so that there are clear boundaries as to what is acceptable, what is not acceptable, and what to do when things have moved beyond what is productive. Line Managers need to develop the skills to build trust in their people through open dialogue and proactive feedback that encourages collaboration and proactive sharing of ideas. Whilst each one of us has responsibility to take the time to understand our peers and work within the frameworks that have been set out for us to manage conflict effectively. When counterproductive conflict does occur, we each have responsibility to manage it immediately, respectively and consistently.

And for those playing along at home – Carmen Mackrill, Della Einfeld and Patricia Hegarty are currently leading the Challenge Tipping Competition – who will take the coveted prize? No doubt the competitive spirit will heat up over the coming weeks, but with Senior Management leading the way, a clear framework for managing disputes, and open and transparent dialogue, our conflicts should be based on the task at hand, rather than counterproductive behaviours, because at the end of the day we have a Tipping Competition to win!

Want to know how Challenge Consulting helps Line Managers build their Conflict Management Skills – Effective Supervision Workshop or how Challenge Consulting help teams proactively manage conflict – Team Building Workshops.

How do you help manage counterproductive conflict in your team and organisation?

Disclaimer: During the discussion forum we discussed that sometimes Workplace Conflict reaches a point that may need external mediation. For more information, please refer to our article on Workplace Bullying and the references listed.

* When it’s not always black and white, Human Capital Magazine

** Hershcovis, Turner, Barling, Arnold, Dupre, Inness, LeBlanc, & Sivanathan (2007). Predicting Workplace Aggression: A Meta-Analysis, Journal of Applied Psychology 92, 228–238.


First, the results from last week’s online poll:

– Discuss your concerns with your boss – 26%

– Talk to HR / your boss’s boss – 17%

– Discuss coping strategies with your peers – 22%

– Put up with it and do nothing – 4%

– Leave – 30%

Further to this final response, one of my Challenge Consulting colleagues added “but not before hiding some prawns in his/her office”.

I must, however, stress that we are not condoning this behaviour!

As always, the Challenge Consulting team had their say on this week’s topic and came back with a range of responses, some amusing, some serious, but all intriguing and insightful.

First, from one who knows how not to be a boss from hell (yes, I am angling for a payrise), our Managing Director, Elizabeth Varley, provided this handy guide:

The Seven Deadly Sinners – how do you spot the boss from hell?

The Devil Wears Prada: Outrageous demands and expectations no matter how unreasonable are this boss’s trade mark. This Devil will expect that you drop everything NOW otherwise you will see their horns appear and their eyes turn red and your life will turn to crap in a split second. The worst thing about TDWP is that even if you pull a miracle out of your hat they are likely to ignore it as yesterday’s news and you are nothing but something smelly on the bottom of their shoe.

The Prima Donna: Unexplained emotional outbursts are the signature of the PD. They can flounce around the office, slam doors, shout, cry and even worse lie on the floor and have a tantrum like a five year old. Don’t get in the way as you might end up with a few bruises. Just quietly shut the door and disappear until the coast is clear.

The Office Bully: Ferrets out victims no matter who they are and will never let up until they are a quivering mess in the toilet.  Like any school yard bully, you can never get this person off your case until you stand up for yourself and fight for your rights. Look them in the eye and say NO!

The Phantom: Like a good magic trick – now you see them and now you don’t. This boss is notable by their absences, unexplained or otherwise. You are often left to carry the can and make excuses for their absence no matter how embarrassing.

The Peacock: Look at “moi” – This boss takes the credit for everyone else’s hard work, struts around the office looking for compliments, talking loudly and slapping people’s back. Most people can get conned by this affable individual but at essence, they contribute very little and make the most noise.

The Ostrich: When the going gets tough they have their heads firmly planted in the sand. These bosses avoid dealing with any type of conflict even if it means losing a major deal, or handling a difficult customer/colleague who is out of line. Don’t look for support from the ostrich as all you will see, is their backside sticking out of the sand.

The Village Idiot: “Incompetence” is this person’s middle name. No matter what this person does, it will turn to custard in the end and you are left to pick up the pieces or wear the egg on your face. You scratch you head and wonder “how do they get to keep their job”? Well, in every organisation there are plenty of examples of the Peter Principle which states that “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”.

So, at this point, we know who we’re dealing with. But what do we do about it? That is the question. Is it nobler to suffer the slings and arrows, or oppose and end them?

One Challenge teamster offered the following advice:

“You have to first endeavour to determine the issue. For example, is the hellish boss actually reacting badly to being out of his/her depth? Is he/she, in fact, just a mean person? Ultimately you need to lay you cards on the table and speak to him/her. Ask questions: ‘Am I meeting your expectations; if not why not?’  ‘Are you aware that your behaviour is unacceptable?’ and the state the reasons. ‘Are you aware you act in a very hurtful/unprofessional way’ etc.

Plus, there’s always the ‘strength in numbers’ approach – whilst you don’t want to ambush the boss, it’s helpful to have back up so they realise it is about him/her and not you or other individual staff members. Provide actual examples of the poor behaviours and ask ‘how would you like to be treated in this fashion?’.”

Another Challenge team member spoke, unfortunately, from personal experience: “I worked with a boss from hell just after I left school. He was a very large man with an even larger voice. He often screamed at employees and used excessive and even abusive language. Nothing was ever done correctly in his eyes and his outbursts of anger were completely unfounded. The way most employees handled him (including me I suppose) was to wait for his fit of anger to blow over, saying nothing during the shouting session, and proceed as per normal when all is over. Unsurprisingly, I don’t think he “upped” any standards of work via his management style. Even worse, though, was the complaining behind his back. This wasted more company time than he could ever have imagined. Additionally, turnover was rather high in the company (which was fairly small) and mostly due to this specific individual.

How should we have dealt with him? Probably more professionally by, say, escalating the issue to his senior, however, it was a very industrial environment with top management situated off site, in fact, in another state, which added more difficulty to the possibility of taking action.”

Of course there is bad management and then there is psychopathic behaviour. Thank you to my colleague Narelle Hess, our Organisational Psychologist, for providing the following resources!

In his fascinating article “In the Jaws of Work Psychos”*, David Wilson writes: “Psychopaths act out their anti-social impulses at all levels of the workforce and typically seek authority positions to give them power over other employees. Thus the attraction of becoming executives and gaining control of staff. With executive power, the psychopath can hide behind a mask of legitimacy to hollow-out selected fellow employees.”

In his article, he cites the work of University of Sydney psychotherapist John Clarke**, who “has made a life-long study of psychopaths in the workforce and is the author of two books on the subject – Working with Monsters and The Pocket Psycho. He says workplace psychopaths commonly intimidate fellow workers, sometimes behave impulsively, always lack remorse and often are glib and superficially charming.

‘About half the people in any workplace won’t be affected. If anything, they will think they are good guys because psychopaths go out of their way to cultivate people who they can use,” Dr Clarke says. ‘It’s from the other half of the workforce the psychopath selects victims to wage war on. The weapons of war include bullying, putting down, humiliating in front of others, stealing credit for work done by others and spreading false rumours about other people. They will tear people apart to get where they want to be,’ he says.

‘These people are usually in positions where they can actually head off or successfully counter any attempts to get rid of them. They hang on like grim death and leave their positions when they want to.”  Dr Clarke says it is immensely difficult weeding out executive psychopaths. He says management and staff have to be educated about the psychopath’s behaviour and develop a united stand so people are less likely to become victims. Psychopaths find it difficult to operate against this sort of united stand, he says. ‘Then the employer has to form a corporate strategy to modify this behaviour or get rid of them.’”

* “In the Jaws of Work Psychos” by David Wison, The Age February 29, 2009 [link]

** Dr John Clarke, official website: http://www.drjohnclarke.com/