to address harassment, bullying and discrimination

 with Stephen Hammond


I’ll often ask a group of supervisors/managers to give me a list of the problems they encounter. I can ask this anywhere across the country and from a wide variety of industries, and about 65% of the time I get the same or similar responses. These often include insensitivities to other employees, or for that matter, people believing some people are too sensitive. Bullying and harassment often come up. Gossip is usually on the list, along with various forms of stereotyping.


After problems have been recorded, I then ask what are the obstacles to deal with these problems? There is even more overlap with these responses. Here are just a few, and I’m including my suggestions.


NOT ENOUGH SKILLS - Ever since my first managerial job, I discovered we don't give supervisors enough support or training, especially when it comes to how to deal with people and conflict. Despite the plethora of courses on these topics today, many managers still don’t feel confident enough to address these problems.


Two suggestions:

Give yourself more credit. Go with what you know and don’t expect you’ll have the perfect answer. If you have good leadership smarts, your approach will likely work very effectively. Usually the worst that happens is in fact you don’t know everything, but you can stop any discussion and say you’ll find out more.


Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Often supervisors think it’s a sign of weakness when they ask others for support or answers. I say it’s a sign of weakness when we know we need help, but we don’t ask for it. I have yet to hear an HR specialist say they are upset because they are asked too many questions. They have a specialty, so use them. And of course, you might want advice from an operational person, not HR, or in addition to HR.


CONFLICT AVERSE - Most people don't want to deal with conflict. Superior species or not, when it comes to settling conflict, I think we're at the bottom of the food chain. I'm not a lot different, but I force myself to address conflict, whether I like it or not. When someone is saying offensive things, or not accommodating a religious need, most people don't want to rock the boat. Even with training on conflict, it ain't easy to take on difficult issues.



Don’t assume everything will lead to a conflict, or a type of conflict that you can’t handle. Without raising your voice or becoming aggressive, tell the person what is expected and have a discussion. If the other person gets upset, keep calm and encourage the other person to do the same, with a goal to resolving the problem.


LACK OF SUPPORT - When supervisors try to do the right thing, they can often get blind-sided by a lack of support from their boss. Years ago, my sister used to call up her "employment-specialist" brother for advice. We'd go over, in detail, a letter or a strategy to deal with a problem employee, but when all was said and done, I'd have to ask why she bothered. She knew her boss at the time would cave, and nothing would get done. Supervisors at a higher level are just as conflict averse as the rest of us.



Perhaps you’re talking to the wrong person. Your boss may not give you the support you need, but perhaps there’s someone else who can give you the support you need. Your boss’s boss may want to support your needs and this person can figure out the office politics to address it without getting you in trouble. Canadian courts and tribunals are full of cases where senior management was unaware of what was going on…and had they known, they would have changed the problem behaviour. At the end of each day, we all have to decide what is important to take to the wall and what is not. Each workplace leader has to make that decision.

This is TIP #11 of 26 BI-WEEKLY TIPS for managers and supervisors. 
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