The reasons we don’t and why we should.
Whether victim or witness of workplace bullying, harassment or discrimination, speaking out against toxic behaviour is challenging. But it is also essential to do so.
Let’s explore some common concerns that prevent victims and bystanders from speaking out.
“It’s not my place to speak for others”
This concern often prevents witnesses intervening in or reporting incidences of bullying, harassment or discrimination.
However, everyone has a right to work in an environment free from toxic behaviour. Plus, as colleagues (at all levels of seniority) we have a duty of care to one another and a collective responsibility for creating a company culture where bullying, harassment or discrimination is not tolerated.
This doesn’t mean you need to intervene directly when witnessing an incident, especially if you feel unable to do so – it is perfectly acceptable to leave capes at the door. Making your presence known, however, or approaching the victim to ask if they’re ok helps to diffuse situations as they’re occurring by disarming the perpetrator and providing an opportunity to remove the victim.
Another option is to speak to the victim separately to offer support or report the incident to someone senior with more influence and authority. Speaking out against toxic behaviour is giving voice to the victim, it is not taking their voice from them.
“She’s more senior than me, I won’t be believed” or “He’s more junior than me, I won’t be believed”
Bullying, harassment and discrimination is an abuse of power that can transcend job roles. The commonality of incidences is the feeling of guilt and shame in the victim, and the consequent fear they won’t be believed if they speak out.
Toxic behaviour thrives on the shame that silences victims. As business owners, managers and HR professionals we need to ensure that the lines of communication are open to victims and witnesses.
An independent employee support line for reporting incidences anonymously is a key way to demonstrate your organisation’s commitment to tackling toxic workplace behaviour but also in providing that safe channel for employees to speak out. It is a place where they will have confidence in being listened to and taken seriously.
“I’m worried about being singled out for speaking out”
The Equality Act 2010 protects an employee who speaks out from being victimised for doing so. Nonetheless, the fear of reprisal remains and serves to feed the cycle of shame and silence.
A similar concern is not wanting to be seen as being hyper-sensitive, a bore or someone who is unable to take a “joke”. But this anxiety only serves to allow toxic behaviour to persist.
Finding your voice, putting your head above the parapet and speaking out against inappropriate behaviour is not easy. It takes courage.
But you are not alone, nor do you need to be. Company cultures where individuals thrive are built on a collective responsibility to preventing toxic workplace behaviour. So, you can also speak with a collective voice. By shining light on bullying, harassment and discrimination, you are encouraging others to face and confront uncomfortable truths about their workplace. It just takes that one voice to get started.
Tell Jane offers an independent, anonymous employee hotline for reporting incidences of toxic workplace behaviour. Not only does the hotline offer victims and witnesses a place to voice their concerns, it offers that first-step towards developing a company culture built on openness, honesty and trust. If you’re interested in finding out more, email firstname.lastname@example.org.