According to one 1700-person academic survey, New Zealand had the second-worst rate of workplace bullying in the developed world with one in five workers afflicted. This week on The Leader’s Digest, our guest post is by Marianne Wilkinson, HR Partner at Intepeople. She is an Association of Workplace Investigators Certificate Holder and provides specialist independent capability to companies wanting to get to the heart of serious employment issues or a facts-based investigation around workplace bullying.  Check out what she has to say about this important leadership issue – Suzi:

There’s a lot of talk about workplace bullying at the moment. Is it PC gone mad? Snowflakes that need to harden up? Or is it that people are finally speaking up and challenging the traditional workplace?

To some degree, it doesn’t really matter which of these is the case. As a leader, you still need to address workplace bullying concerns in a fair and reasonable way. One of the most common things I hear from senior management when I’m carrying out an investigation is

“I had no idea”.

So what are some signals that you might have a bullying issue in your workplace?

1. An upwards spike in the usage of EAP

If you offer an employee assistance programme, you should already be getting some reporting that doesn’t breach the confidentiality of the people who have accessed the programme. If there is a marked increase in your usage figures, it may be a warning sign that you have an issue you need to address.

2. Unexplained higher turnover in your business, or part of it

Do you know how your employee turnover compares to similar businesses? While average turnover varies between industries, if your figures are out of whack with ‘like’ organisations in your space, it will be costing you money in recruitment, productivity and training. That’s a good enough reason to try and get to the bottom of the cause.

3. A drop in employee engagement

If you conduct regular surveys such as Ask Your Team, any significant changes in the workplace ‘vibe’ are easy to spot. If there is a sharp drop in a team’s engagement scores, this could be an early indicator that something is awry.

4. A significant drop in employee performance, either individually or in a team

If a star or even a steady performer has a drop in work performance, or starts making uncharacteristic mistakes, you can’t always assume it’s due to something happening in their personal life.

A warning about tackling performance though – it’s a tricky area. I’ve seen some managers explain away a claim of bullying by one of their team by saying, “oh – it’s just because I’ve started performance managing her”. The WorkSafe website has good guidance to determining what is (and isn’t) workplace bullying. Performance management can still be carried out without it being done in a bullying way.

5. Comments in exit interviews

Gathering exit information is a great way to receive valuable feedback and can be done on-line, or by the employee completing a form. Another option is an exit interview, either internally or through an external independent party. However you do it, you’ll get valuable information – please use it! I have seen boxes of exit interview forms that have never been looked at. In which case, why bother? People often feel brave enough to speak their truth when they are leaving – there could be gold in there!

6. An increase in sick leave or unusual patterns developing

Is there less sick leave taken when a particular manager is on leave? Are there lots of people taking Mondays off? Your sick leave patterns can be a good pointer towards a workplace bullying issue – if you review them. A regular HR reporting dashboard that displays your statistics in a visual way makes these sorts of trends much easier to spot.

There is no longer any excuse for “I had no idea”. Be alert. Use the tools you already have in place. Or put some in place some of the ones I’ve mentioned above if you don’t already have them.

Guest post contributed by Marianne Wilkinson.