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CASE STUDY 1

Procrastination Results in Expensive Mess for Employer

Complaint Key on Grunge Typewriter.Several informal complaints were made to the Human Resources Manager of an organisation by two casual employees (Kate and Ashley*) who claimed to have been bullied by their line manager Joan*. The complainants rejected suggestions that they should put their complaints in writing, expressing fear that there would be repercussions from Joan if she became aware they had complained.

There was a general reluctance from upper management to accept the complaints because of Joan’s high productivity levels and her perceived value to the organisation. Joan was an excellent performer of considerable experience who was dedicated to her role and could be counted upon to bring projects to fruition in a timely and efficient manner. They had seen no evidence of bullying behaviour themselves – Joan was always personable and polite, in fact, the Human Resources Manager and the Executive Director of Joan’s work division, socialised with her regularly and liked her a lot. The HR Manager elected not to act on the complaints, justifying her decision on the basis that the complaints had not been made formally (in writing) and she was therefore not compelled to act.

Eventually both Kate and Ashley found their hours had been cut to unsustainable levels by Joan. Pushed to the limit, and with nothing more to lose, Kate found other employment and resigned and Ashley made a formal written complaint alleging bullying and mismanagement. The HR Manager in consultation with the CEO elected to engage us to conduct an independent investigation. Our investigation subsequently found that bullying had taken place on a number of levels and recommended a range of remedial action to prevent further bullying of the complainant.

Three months after tabling our recommendations, no further action had been taken and Joan remained in her position. This was when Sara, a highly valued and very popular staff member handed in her resignation. Later that day, the HR manager was visited by an informal delegation of Sara’s colleagues who reported that Sara had also been bullied by Joan and her decision to resign had been made in despondence over the apparent inaction of the organisation in relation to the previous complaints. When questioned by HR, Sara broke down and admitted to having been bullied to the extent that she had been seeing a counsellor for some time. She also named another staff member who she claimed had been having panic attacks at work as a result of bullying by the Joan. None of the victims were initially prepared to make formal complaints because of a general perception that Joan would be protected because of her friendships with HR and upper management. It was common knowledge that the HR Manager and the Executive Director socialised with Joan regularly.

The employer had no choice but to re-engage us to investigate. We subsequently interviewed the victims who, by that time, had agreed to make formal statements largely because they knew the investigation was being conducted by independent consultants. This time around there were five victims, making the investigation a costly one for the Client. We found that bullying had occurred and recommended that Joan be relieved of all management duties.
The second investigation could have been prevented had our recommendations from the first investigation been acted upon promptly. The employer’s tardiness resulted in an exacerbated and ultimately costly situation.

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