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Deborah Hartung

Personify Change

SPARKFluencer: Sparking Ideas Influencing Change

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Five ways HR leaders can help banish a bullying culture

BrewDog is the latest brand to be outed for its ‘culture of fear’ and bullying of staff. How can HR leaders stop this toxic behaviour in its tracks?

Recently, business news outlets have been sharing more and more utterly shocking reports of workplace bullying and toxic workplace cultures. What started a few years ago with Uber, is clearly far from over. From Nike to BrewDog, we continue to read reports of bias, bullying, harassment and fear at work. 

You’d think we would have learned by now. After all, on an intellectual level, we all know that the cost of having a toxic workplace culture is astronomical, due to increased absenteeism, reduced productivity and performance and high staff turnover. And in the longer term, the employer brand becomes so damaged that it’s near impossible to attract and retain the best talent. 

As a business or HR leader, you have the power to turn the tide and ensure that your organisation doesn’t become infamous for all the wrong reasons. Obviously, it helps to not hire bullies in the first place. But let’s focus on more practical steps that you can take right now to improve your company culture and – if you apply these consistently – banish the bullying for good. 

People everywhere are hungry for workplace environments where they can bring their whole, authentic self to work and where they can learn, grow and thrive.

1. Call it out 

The most obvious solution is often the most challenging, because a culture of fear goes hand in hand with a culture of silence. People don’t speak up because they fear the repercussions – including negative performance reviews, being denied promotions or being subjected to ongoing micro-aggressions, victimisation and bullying at work. 

Your workplace culture becomes the worst behaviour you are willing to tolerate. 

A culture of fear starts out with ignoring the small things and letting them slide, especially if the perpetrators are in senior positions of power. Start a ‘see something, say something’ campaign at work and reward people instead of punishing them for speaking up. People need certainty about what is acceptable and what behaviour will not be tolerated. 

At the most basic level, you need to undertake a three step process:

  • Define, clarify and communicate your values (what these values actually mean in your business) 

  • Identify and communicate the behaviours that promote and support these values and reference behaviours that detract from the culture you’re trying to create. This starts the process of creating a baseline and a shared understanding from which all your employees can work to building the desired culture

  • Identify the competencies that would support the behaviours you’re promoting at work. Competencies such as collaboration, conflict resolution ability and transparency will all help you build an enviable culture, long before skills like project management and computer skills will

2. Prioritise psychological safety 

People everywhere are hungry for workplace environments where they can bring their whole, authentic self to work and where they can learn, grow and thrive. Everybody wants to work in an environment where they receive ongoing recognition and feedback and where teamwork and collaboration is favoured over silos and competition.

There are some fantastic programmes that many facilitators, just like me, offer to help teams build and maintain psychological safety and work better, together. Find the right fit for your organisation.

3. Get actionable data and feedback

The annual ‘employee engagement’ survey is of absolutely no use whatsoever as a strategic culture tool. Instead, invest in technology that enables you to gather ongoing data and feedback about the behaviour of supervisors and line managers within your teams and also empowers employees to rate themselves and their colleagues on behaviour and how they’re tracking and improving. 

4. Build capacity 

The data is useless unless you actually do something about the information you’ve gathered. Talent management is of key importance here. Build leadership and coaching capacity amongst supervisors and managers and equip everyone in your organisation with the tools and abilities to give and receive feedback, to collaborate effectively and to resolve conflict in a constructive manner.

5. Re-define high performance 

This is the single most powerful and transformational move any organisation can make. By re-defining the concept of high performance to include not only what employees do (output, productivity, reaching the goals that were set), but also how they behave and treat each other (empathy, collaboration, values-congruent behaviour), the toxic cycle of rewarding bullies with fancy job titles and more power and money, is finally broken.

By implementing this blueprint to managing performance in the new world of work, you will be able to create a workplace where you’re not only smashing your strategic business goals, but also creating an amazing culture and desirable employer brand.  

Creating an enviable culture

By combining all of these steps and making them part of your overall talent management strategy, you will soon see the needle shift.  The employees who are responding to coaching and capacity building initiatives will continue to do so and they will be more engaged and excited about helping you create an enviable workplace culture and employer brand.

Those who can’t or won’t improve their behaviour and actions will exit the organisation and be replaced with individuals who display the competencies and required behaviours from their very first interview. 

Interested in this topic? Read ‘How to give employees a ‘safe space’ to speak out’.

Author Profile Picture
Deborah Hartung

SPARKFluencer: Sparking Ideas Influencing Change

Read more from Deborah Hartung

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