April 01, 2007

Developing a Dignity at Work/Bullying and Harassment Policy

One of the key methods of starting to tackle the issues could be the introduction of a dignity at work or bullying/harassment policy. When doing so, it is important to be clear about your objectives. A policy fulfils a number of important functions within an organisation, such as ensuring equity and fair treatment and indicating a recognition of the seriousness of the issue being addressed.

You should clarify the scope of the policy, whether it relates to staff, students, visitors, contractors, or any combination of these. Where there are separate policies for each group, they should be comprehensive and consistent. One policy that covers all circumstances avoids the difficulties of deciding which policy and procedure to use when dealing with cases, and will enable your institution to promote one recognised standard of conduct for all, as your policy should include examples of unacceptable behaviour.

The policy should also outline relative responsibilities, including those of bystanders or witnesses, and should provide guidance on the procedures to be followed, and sources of help available, in the event of bullying or harassment. There should be a clear distinction between the informal and formal procedures and the aim should generally be to resolve issues at the informal stage, if at all possible, as this is usually the complainant’s preferred initial course of action and enables resolution with as little long-term damage as possible.

Any policy should be jointly developed with the recognised trade unions. Most institutions will involve the unions at the consultation stage, but if you have been working in partnership throughout the development of the policy, not only will the unions be committed to making it work, but they will be able to offer you helpful insights from their perspective on your own institution and any specific issues that may need to be addressed.

In order to be useful, any policy needs to be comprehensible and easy to read, but it is surprising how often policies are written without any regard to plain English. It is also clear that employees need to be aware of where to find details of the policy and how to access advice and help in using it.

However, any policy is only as good as its implementation. Management commitment is essential to making policy development a reality within the institution. You should make sure that you do not put so much effort into writing the perfect policy that you have no resources left to make it work effectively. Organisations often argue that they do not have sufficient resources to effectively deal with bullying and harassment, but with top level commitment it can be done.

From: Dignity at Work - Good Practice Guide for Higher Education

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