In my last blog post, I explored a number of so-called ‘grey areas’ when it comes to employee behaviour and why it’s often best to not let these behaviours go unchecked.  Ignoring such behaviour may lead to a negative impact on team culture or even worse, may have future legal ramifications or litigation.

In part two, I explore more examples of what questionable behaviour can look like in the workplace and some key considerations.  And given the timing of this post, November, when End of Year parties and Christmas functions are starting to get under way, it’s pertinent to remind businesses what they can do to potentially mitigate employee related issues arising during the festive season.

Swearing – it’s often regarded as the norm in Australian culture, but what does this mean for workplaces?  Can an employee be dismissed for swearing?  Just like the title of this blog post suggests – it’s a grey area, but context matters.  Both in terms of the workplace culture and the situation in which the swearing took place.

Curse words can carry a multitude of meaning, but the impact of their use usually comes down to how an individual delivers it.  Were certain words used to convey humour or to get a point across?  If swearing is perceived as being used to intimidate, belittle or threaten another, then it may amount to bullying or harassment.

And what if swearing is a standard part of the company culture?  Even if swearing is common in a particular workplace, it doesn’t excuse swearing being used as a tool to repeatedly belittle another (i.e. bully) or to create a hostile work environment.

Shouting – It’s a reasonable expectation that all individuals in an organisation be treated with respect.  If individuals shout in a workplace due to frustration or as a way to intimidate or demean others, then this should be addressed in proper channels.

It should also go without saying that the way managers give directions to their team members should be reasonable and professional.  Shouting is usually an ineffective way to ‘manage’.  While every scenario is different, a manager might consider addressing a ‘shouter’ by meeting with the individual confidentially to understand the cause of the frustration and determine if the individual would benefit from more guidance and/or training on more effective management techniques.

The ‘silent treatment’ – this term can label a wide variety of behaviour but it’s essentially any behaviour that could be described as excluding someone or ostracising them:  ignoring an individual  by not saying ‘hello’, ignoring emails, voicemails, calls, excluding an individual from work related or social activities, through to not recognising the individuals efforts professionally (or at all). It’s potentially a form of bullying

Where these claims exist or if there are any claims of such behaviour at work, it’s best to take the claims seriously and take appropriate steps to investigate and/or address them, as there may be breaches under legislation.

And if you needed any more reason to take such claims seriously, a study undertaken by the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business found that being ignored at work can be worse for an individual’s mental and physical well-being than other forms of bullying or harassment.

Non-Constructive Feedback – that is, feedback that doesn’t serve a purpose.  Non-constructive feedback is usually given with the aim of telling someone that they did something wrong, with little intent to help the individual perform better in the future. Constructive feedback will always clearly outline the future expectations and give an individual a clear understanding of specific actions they can take to improve. This can work both ways from manager to team member and team member to manager.

Not only will constructive feedback help foster a positive work atmosphere, it’s a central tenet of a high performing team – and who doesn’t want one of those?!?

In the workplace, this may play out in various scenarios:  a manager challenging a direct report to improve performance or learn new skills; an individual providing feedback to management that they have witnessed behaviour or performance that is inconsistent with the company’s values and/or goals as well as peers challenging each other on aspects of a work project.

The key here is that individuals should understand how to disagree without being disagreeable.  Despite individual differences or differences in opinion, the guiding principle should be that all employees are in the business together and working towards the same goals. Ideally the workplace culture will create an environment where individuals respectfully listen, debate, decide and then move forward.

The company’s culture and values is often the biggest driver of performance and a positive work environment. It shouldn’t be forgotten that by and large, employees will experience the company and culture through their direct manager.  Therefore, it’s imperative that managers understand their role and responsibility in setting the tone of the workplace culture and reflect those values.

The End-Of-Year Party

One particularly important time of year where it’s important to ‘set the tone’ is the over the End-of-Year Party/Christmas season.  Rather than just letting everyone loose (pun intended) and hoping that no issues arise, my advice is to set the expectations up front and remind everyone of your expectations of acceptable behaviour. Where everyone attends the function where all are aware of the expectations then everyone can relax, celebrate and have a good time!

You may consider sending a company-wide email before the event which includes details around the responsible consumption of alcohol; whether employees are able to return to the workplace after the party (tip: it’s prudent to not allow employees back to the office after they have had a few drinks) as well as  transport considerations or arrangements to and from the event.  And of course, that you hope that everyone has a good time!

If you require assistance in working out what you should or shouldn’t include in your communications, in managing a particular situation, or to define your organisation’s culture and values, we’d be happy to help.

Nick Hedges is the founder of Resolve HR, a Sydney-based HR consultancy specialising in providing workplace advice to managers and business owners.

Disclaimer: The contents do not constitute legal advice, are not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.

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