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Harassment and Bullying in Strata – Not on my Turf

Aug 8, 2021

We often think of bullying as something that happens as children at school but the reality is, that kind of behaviour can carry on well into our adult lives. It can still be found in the workplace and even in strata committees. A research paper by Beyondblue found that almost 1 in 2 Australians has experienced workplace bullying in some form during their lives.

Bullying in Strata

From speaking to Strata Managers, one of the challenges they face is dealing with difficult people. When an owner, resident, manager or even subcontractor working on-site resorts to intimidation or harassment, this can negatively impact the community.

Strata committees can help enhance the communities and environment in which residents live as well as create safe working environments for third party contractors. Various preventative measures can help reduce the risks of harassment and bullying to protect the strata community.

What is bullying and harassment?

When people don’t see eye-to-eye, disagreements can happen. Often it can start honestly enough, from valid points made in a healthy discussion or from constructive criticism. The problem arises when disagreements escalate beyond that – when a difference of opinion turns into aggressive, intimidating behaviour and personal attacks that may harm or humiliate an individual. Whether intentional or not, when it has crossed that boundary, it has become bullying and harassment.

For many of the Strata Managers we have spoken with, these incidents can often happen when dealing with difficult customers. These can stem from a variety of reasons, whether it be conflicting priorities, misunderstanding of rights and responsibilities or unrealistic demands.

The impacts of bullying

The effects of bullying and harassment are detrimental not just for the targeted individuals, but the community that surrounds them as well as the business itself. It may not even be limited to the workplace but rather harassment outside, at work-related events and on social networking sites. Those being bullied at work experience stress, anxiety or depression, and it can make them hesitant to return to a hostile workplace. All those that bear witness to these incidents often suffer many of the same mental health effects.

For the business, this could result in reduced work performance and cause a higher staff turnover. According to Beyondblue, the effects of bullying is estimated to cost Australian businesses from $6 billion to $36 billion each year.

Workplace bullying – how do we define it, and what constitutes a workplace.ying

Strata managers can be exposed to bullying within their organisation as well as when on-site at strata schemes they manage. 

Workplace bullying signifies a failure by the business to provide a safe working environment for staff, which under the  Fair Work Act is part of the body corporate committee’s duty. The Act deems “workers” entitled to this right to include as any individual engaged to perform work in any capacity, whether they be employee, contractor, sub-contractor, trainee or volunteer.

How to prevent workplace bullying

Every person is entitled to be able to work in a safe and healthy work environment. It takes the entire team to believe in that value, to help maintain that standard and create that safe space. 

One of the first steps to achieving this is to develop a code of conduct or policy relating to bullying and harassment. By having this policy and ensuring all workers are aware of it, employees can clearly understand their obligations and responsibilities as well as the behaviour expected of them and those around them. 

Strata by-laws can also reinforce similar expectations as they list the terms that residents and strata committees are legally bound by. If a strata scheme’s by-laws do not detail how bullying in strata committees are dealt with, proposing to include a code of conduct or policy on bullying and harassment at the next Annual General Meeting (AGM) can help to create that safe and healthy work space for everyone. If bullying has occurred previously, keeping evidence of these incidents can help build a case for the inclusion of the anti-bullying policy.

Managing and resolving bullying

It is important to understand when a bullying incident has occurred and the circumstances surrounding it. Start by determining the severity of the bullying and who has been subject to the bullying. 

As not all victims will speak up, it is important to watch for the signs and work to address them accordingly, treating each situation with care and empathy. It can help to talk to trusted people and gain an outside perspective to look at things objectively. Speaking to the respondent directly if safe to do so, can help raise awareness of their behaviour and its effects on those around them. 

Generally, the majority of complaints can be resolved quickly and effectively through this method. However, if that is unsuccessful, formal investigation is required. Warning notices can be issued to the bullying perpetrator. Depending on the circumstance, this can be done by the strata committee or Strata Manager. Lodging a formal complaint in writing will usually be required to initiate the formal investigation.

If this still proves difficult, external assistance can be sought. Consumer Affairs Victoria is responsible for strata and community title legislation and can assist with mediation on bullying issues.

Have you faced workplace bullying at your strata committee? What strategies do you use to address bullying and resolve complaints? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

*This article is based on a presentation by Mark Rademaker, General Manager Human Resources, Programmed at the 2020 Strata in Motion (VIC) online conference. 

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