One of the highlights about being a small business owner is forging strong relationships with your staff when working as a tight-knit team. In fact, bosses who bully employees are far more common in large organisations than in small businesses, according to research conducted by Employsure in partnership with Roy Morgan.
But as small businesses grow and hierarchies set in, it becomes harder to communicate and manage employees at-scale. It’s a problem many growing businesses face: one in three Australians have felt bullied by a boss, according to the same Employsure research, and one in four Australians have cried because of a boss.
Give personalised feedback
Workplace bullying doesn’t need to become the norm as your business expands. Making a few adjustments to your management style can help create a work environment free from bullying and intimidation.
Isabella Zamorano is a senior employment relations adviser at Employsure. She says the key to delivering feedback is to keep it focused and personalised.
“Specific and detailed feedback is far more actionable than general feedback, and much easier to deal with,” she says.
Frame feedback not as a personal criticism, but rather as an opportunity for growth, Zamorano advises.
“Address the issue, not the person. If you tell someone they are bad at something, it reinforces a fixed mindset – you are innately bad at this task,” she says. “If you describe their errors and have them fix it, it reinforces a growth mindset – you have the ability to excel at this task, you just need to learn a few key skills.”
Have feedback conversations
Providing regular, constructive feedback removes the stigma from performance conversations. Instead of waiting until something goes wrong, or withholding criticisms until yearly performance reviews, incorporate feedback into BAU. This turns critiques into two-way conversations.
“Describe the errors and ask [employees] how they could avoid similar mistakes in the future, which turns the criticism into a coaching session,” Zamorano says.
Set clear expectations and document them
Zamorano outlines four practices SMEs can adopt to ensure they don’t come across as a bully:
- Provide all employees with clear instructions, information and training
- Set and communicate clear performance expectations, and make sure employees understand your business’ disciplinary policies.
- Make sure any management action is justified, fair and consistent
- Document all performance and disciplinary matters
Seek expert advice
Sometimes, despite best efforts there’s a breakdown in communication. Whether it’s an issue of communicating at-scale, or a case of misinterpreted feedback, you may find yourself defending a bullying claim. Having your disciplinary processes documented from the outset will save you headaches down the line, Zamorano advises.
“If you have a policy and you’ve followed the process, then you’ll be in a more defensible position if a claim is later brought by one of the employees involved.”
Without the luxury of an HR department, many small businesses owners are left to manage bullying investigations themselves, which can quickly derail day-to-day operations. Zamorano suggests turning to expert advice to keep your business running smoothly during this time.
“Consider receiving expert advice from workplace relations specialists, so you are in the best position to resolve the bullying claim with little or no impact on your business,” she says.
Incorporating these tips into your management and feedback style will help turn critiques into productive conversations. Making sure your disciplinary processes are documented and understood from the outset, and turning to expert advice when needed, means you can maintain a happy, productive workplace.
Australia has one of the most difficult workplace relations systems in the world. Employsure is here to help employers navigate the complexity. Employsure is the largest provider of employment relations and work health and safety services in Australia — servicing more than 24,000 clients nationally. More than 300 advisers and consultants provide independent advice to business owners on their workplace relations and health and safety obligations. Every day Employsure gives business owners the confidence that their workplaces are safe, fair and compliant.
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