In Australia right now (although, it’s a global issue) there seems to be a moment where there are too many organisational examples where ethics, morals, behaviour, standards and ultimately judgement, are being brought into question. And that’s putting it gently.

With the news filled with reports of discrimination, assault, harassment and unethical behaviours occurring in our workplaces all around the country, it is fuelling two distinct emotions – anger and sadness.

Even here at mwah., in a team that deals with culture – good and bad – most days, we’ve seen both emotions in the team– and that’s rare for us.

Where do the emotions come from

Rage and anger is from the frustration and fury that these are still issues. As someone close to the business put it today – “I came to work promised an equal opportunity to have a great career and future, and that’s not true. I have less opportunity, less pay and I’m not safe at work”.

We get that emotion.

Sadness is for a whole range of issues – slow progress, no progress, speeches from women who have been hurt or damaged, speeches from women who have fought for change for decades and feel it’s been futile.

We get that emotion too.

So, who marched?

Some members of the mwah. team attended the recent marches held across Australia determined to play in nation-wide solidarity, understanding and support for change. As a team, we are all passionate advocates for making our workplaces absolutely human (hence our name), and with this passion comes our desire for positive change to support every human to thrive rather than survive in our workplaces. Certainly we never accept that a workplace should ever be harmful.

We are never political in our work, so for us it’s a simpler issue – that diversity, equality, equity, inclusion and even work itself is a fundamental human right. We just want people to thrive. What we also know from our work is that there are systems and processes that for too long have either protected people who are doing the wrong thing, or at a minimum, have prevented the conversations around change from happening. We’ve been clear (or even outspoken) on the poor use of Non-Disclosure Agreements, ineffective ‘speak up’ processes, and inadequate training for leaders and employees. So, against all that, we completely appreciate why people – including some of us – marched.

That said, we also know it will take more than marching.

If you’re leading or sitting in an organisation right now, we wanted to put together just a few very practical things you can do to support positive change in your organisation.

1.   Set clear expectations

Setting expectations is super important – without these being clear, you’d be surprised what some people think are acceptable behaviours. We’re not talking sexual assault, of course, but there are an awful lot of behaviours that are not OK, that when normalised ultimately become part and parcel of your culture – of ‘that’s the way things are done around here’.

Questions worth asking yourself include:

  • Have you set clear expectations and if only some are set, do they need to be reset?
  • Beyond words, how are the policies enacted in your organisation? Do they need adjustment?
  • What do your leadership team say and does behaviour match your expectations?
  • Are your values and principles aligned to your policies?
  • If you asked any employee, would they know what is expected of them with regard to workplace behaviour?

Set (or reset) expectations – say it loud, clearly and stick with them.

2.  Keep the right stats and the right info.

Far too often, issues of judgement and behaviour are swept under the rug, scratched off the record, or not recorded at all. And yes, there are legal protections.

Yet in most situations, these behaviours are investigated and understood as ‘one-offs’, and maybe they are, but keep the stats. Keep the info.

Illegal activity, bad behaviour, questionable judgement calls are often a pattern of behaviour. We are human, we are creatures of habit. It’s rare to see someone act as a bully just once. More often, bullies are insidious and likely to impact many over a long time.

When you keep the numbers on issues raised, and complaints, and claims – you start to see patterns. Sure, each case must be reviewed as a specific issue, but patterns will tell you who isn’t quite up to scratch as a leader of your people.

We think the ‘right’ stats are these:

  • How many deeds of release (NDA’s) are going out from each leader?
  • How many non-performance based exits happen under each leader?
  • How many complaints have you received and what do they look like – what, who, where and why? Are they similar and what is the trend?
  • What happened to the people who ‘spoke up’ in the last 12months?

These will tell whether you have ‘hot spots’ of behaviour concentrated in areas, teams or particular locations, and they’ll let you know what to keep an eye out for the in the future – not a ‘one off’ but a pattern

Imagine if you could be proactive and intervene with the first early incidents, before the behaviour started to impact others.

A picture tells a thousand words. This data tells the truth.

3.   Ensure your team are able to speak up

Being able to speak up when something is not right or report inappropriate behaviours is an absolute baseline for any workplace. It takes immense strength to report behaviour or challenge behaviours in any workplace, and systems for reporting need to be accessible, available and trusted.
A significant impediment to reporting behaviour and enabling an inclusive and diverse organisation is when you have a culture of not ‘speaking out’. Keeping news from those above, for fear of negative repercussions enable the worst behaviours to continue. This is unfortunately true in organisations where the poor behaviour is from they or those who are the ones that created the reporting structures and are given the reports.  It should be possible to speak up against any person in the organisation, and that means a process that does not circle back to the person against whom a complaint was made.

A couple of questions well worth exploring include:

  • Do you have a strong speak up process?
  • Is it independent?
  • Is it trusted?
  • Is it used?
  • Is it recommended?
  • Does it result in resolution of issues and addressing bad behaviour?
  • It is also well worth hearing first hand of the experience of going through the process.

Test your workplace reporting systems regularly, utilise scenarios and ‘what if’s’ in order to see what would really happen and how can you ensure the safety of those using them.

Make sure your reporting systems work for all

4. Support everyone involved

Inappropriate workplace behaviour causes harm to everyone involved. Those effects can be felt immediately, and can also emerge over time and result in long-term trauma.
The impacts are deeply personal and highly varied. It can impact just one individual or can extend to families, people who witness inappropriate behaviours, and people within and outside of the organisation who support those impacted, respond to or have to manage the behaviour.

The capability to support and the availability of support are both critically important. Make sure every leader, if not every employee, knows how to triage and support in the moment.  And then ensure you communicate widely and frequently so it’s well known and understood. . People need to know they have access to a safe and reliable support process.

A couple of questions worth exploring include:

  • What support do you have in place?
  • Are those who support well equipped or capable of managing significant behaviour and wellbeing impacts?
  • Who are you supporting? And is the support right for their needs?
  • Support everyone involved and keep an open mind as the story unfolds and is understood.

Support everyone, now and always.

Over the next few weeks these raging issues and debates will continue. We suggest you use the momentum of this week’s march to take these simple and practical steps forward, because without them you will remain in the same place.

Keep moving forwards.