Toxic Workplaces: A Strengths Approach

Workplace bullying and harassment cost the Australian economy up to $36 billion per year (Australian Human Rights Commission). 

Most of us have witnessed workplace bullying. We’ve seen colleagues and friends suffer psychological and emotional injury, disruption to their careers and disruption to their family lives. We’ve seen businesses suffer repetitional damage, high rates of absenteeism, high staff turnover, low morale and decreased productivity.Those businesses who tolerate a culture of bullying are toxic places.

To counter the cost we now have training in Workplace Bullying and Harassment, workplace policies and procedures, Employee Assistance Programs, sanctions imposed and explosive growth in the Human Resources industry. Yet this type of behaviour still continues. The damage still continues and those perpetuating the behaviour remain in place.

The traditional approach taken to bullying and harassment is to focus on the problem at hand, provide a diagnosis and return to business as normal. This approach entrenches an adversarial environment creating further distrust and continues the process of breaking down workplace relationships. My experience is that this approach just does not work.

Something is wrong. But is there another way to address the issue? 

Strengths based approaches such as Appreciative Inquiry offer a way forward. Such approaches look at “what’s strong, not wrong” in a workplace. Please note it doesn’t ignore any issues but sees these as opportunities for growth and change.

Strength based approaches seek what is strong in an organisation. It aims to bring out the best in people and the organisation. Approaching bullying and harassment from this perspective represents a major culture change as it changes the power dynamic of an organisation from one of performance weakness orientation to a growth based dynamic. One where people and their strengths are important to the business and one where their resilience, growth and development matters. This has a major impact on the organisation or business. As a strengths based approach is about uncovering the strengths of the individual and the organisation it creates an environment where there is opportunity for success for both individuals and organisations.

This removes key motivators for bullying i.e. power, control, belittling and subversive or sociopathic behaviour as the focus in now on growth, not blame. The dynamic is now a leadership dynamic and not a managerial dynamic where the leader draws out and builds on the strengths, skills and abilities of staff.

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