July 5, 2017
In this post, I’m going to discuss how to structure a complaint to HR – because this is an area that most people struggle with.
If we step back to take some perspective, we can surmise that most companies are in business to make a profit and the role of HR within that business is to ensure compliance with various laws so as to avoid expensive litigation, as well as to hold employees accountable so they’re doing their jobs to make the company thrive.
When someone makes a complaint about bullying, it’s more often than not perceived as a threat to the company because:
1) They don’t know what the hell to do with it (most HR professionals haven’t been trained in how to deal with the complex emotional dynamics involved in bullying – so restorative justice and emotional recovery aren’t prioritised)
2) This is a threat to the company because they could be up for expensive litigation when inevitably, negotiations go south.
What does that mean for YOU? Well, now you’ve made this complaint, YOU have become a threat to the company. Their thinking is more likely to be along the lines of “how can we make this problem (i.e., YOU) go away?” – In the most expedient way possible.
The short answer to the company’s problem is:
1) Deny all wrong doing
2) Get rid of you
Hence, companies who claim a “zero tolerance” to bullying, more often than not have come up with “crafty” ways of denying it – to cover their arses (CYA). They will say: “we did an investigation (read: “sham investigation by unqualified employees who don’t know what the hell they’re doing), but the allegations were not proven and so our finding is that this is a “personality clash”” – for which they suggest mediation, which doesn’t work according to extensive research in this area (as per Gary Namie’s research, the world’s foremost authority on workplace bullying).
Then, what often happens is they turn their attention to performance-managing you out of the company, because now you’re labelled as a “troublemaker” and it’s time for you to leave ASAP.
So, you need to forget about the idea that anyone in HR cares about how you feel, or feels obligated to sort out your problem. The weakest kind of complaint you can make is one where you liberally express your outrage and expect them to do something NOW – because it’s: “the right thing to do.”
Instead, I invite you to take some perspective and before you send in that letter of complaint, imagine how it will be received by your reader. What is it that motivates them? How will that colour their perception of your complaint?
As such you need to consider writing your letter in a way that targets the self-interest of your reader.
And, bearing in mind that once you enter the fray of putting in a complaint, thereafter will ensue an adversarial process. Meaning – the onus is on you to PROVE your case and often you’ll be badgered into acquiescence.
As such, it matters very much that you collect evidence that adequately supports your assertion that you’ve been bullied, where workplace bullying is defined in (Australian) law as:
“The repeated, unreasonable behaviour that constitutes a risk to health and safety. It does not include reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner.”
What this means for you is a lot of extra work (so factor this in when you decide on the OUTCOME you want. You need to be methodical and consistent in documenting your evidence and keeping it in a safe place, until such time as you’re ready to use it.
To this end, I’ve developed a “Workplace Evidence Gathering Kit” for you, which is a set of resources that takes you through, step-by-step, every aspect of your complaint, as follows:
1) The first thing you get are 2 checklists – One is a checklist of 30 typical bullying behaviours in order of frequency of occurrence. The second checklist includes 30 of the most common symptoms that develop as a result of being bullied. Both these checklists are drawn from the amazing work of Gary Namie.
2) The second thing you get is a reusable evidence-gathering form that prompts you to describe, giving only the bare facts of the bullying behaviour, in the most succinct possible way. From the checklists, you’ll also be able to enter the number corresponding to the type of behaviour and its impact on you.
Record each bullying incident in the form in a way that eliminates “emotional hooks,” by which I mean you’re not drowning your reader in emotionally overwhelming language (usually in the form of weighty adjectives). If you do that, they’ll switch off and won’t read beyond the first couple of lines.
3) The third piece is an “official letter template” where you get to describe what happened, when, how and how often – that in itself will mean business. To that you add details about the specific ways in which the company’s policies, procedures, laws and ethics have been broken. It intends to broadcast to your reader the following message:
“I know my rights, I know the law and I know what I’m doing, so watch out. I mean business. If you don’t act on my complaint in a reasonable and timely manner, you’re looking down the barrel of a major lawsuit, which I won’t have any qualms in proceeding with.”
To receive such a letter can be very intimidating and often has the power of a “cease and desist” letter by a lawyer. Can you imagine how terrified YOU would be to get such a letter?
It goes without saying that following this course of action takes a lot of your time and attention (be prepared to take up to 2 weeks or more in drafting it) – and it does tend to break workplace relationships beyond repair. So you’d better be ready to walk out WITH a sound back-up plan.
If you’re not prepared to take this much disciplined (but highly effective) action, then your option is to either leave without saying anything, or to tolerate the unacceptable behaviour until your mental health has irrevocably declined. Both those options are valid choices, but they’re passive and won’t give you the sense of achieving adequate restorative justice.
If you do take the more difficult, but more rewarding route, you’ll probably be beset by anxiety and uncertainty in the short term. But in the longer term, the knowledge that you’ve stuck up for yourself will immeasurably boost your self-confidence and trust in yourself.
So how do you get going on this strategy? Well, you can click on this link to receive instructions on how to get it straight to your Facebook Messenger inbox. Alternatively, click on: “Workplace Evidence Gathering Kit“ for rapid access. You can choose either option and you’ll also get you access to my email coaching series on how to use the kit properly.
In the meantime, stay tuned to my Banish Bullying At Work Facebook Page because I’ll be presenting part 3 in this series on how to deal with intense emotion as a result of being bullied at work.
Dr Sophie Henshaw is a Work Stress Strategist, Author and Doctor of Psychology who also works as a clinical psychologist in private practice in Western Australia. She’s helps mid-career professionals working in toxic workplaces with bully bosses walk away from work stress without losing their career, reputation, income or sanity in her online program, "Walk Away From Work Stress." Dr Sophie is the author of “Stressed, Depressed And Dreading Mondays” and has contributed a chapter in Anton Hout's book: “What Every Target Of Workplace Bullying Needs To Know.” She also writes for her blog at: www.freespiritedme.com and has made media appearances on Channel 10, 6PR, Huffpost Live, WA Today, Ninemsn Health and is a contributor to Huffington post, Women’s Agenda and PsychCentral online magazines. In 2017 she presented at the “No More Harm” conference and in 2016 was a keynote speaker at the "No2Bullying conference," as well as the inaugural HPARA conference.