There has been a lot of discussion recently in the news, about school bullying and what we should do about it.

In an ideal world, we could say that we need to all stand up to bullies, tell them to back off, hit them back or whatever it takes to make it go away.  However, we are talking about people – we are all different and some targets of bullies are targets because of the fact that they won’t confront.  They are viewed as easy prey and vulnerable.  What’s more, there is very little evidence that shows that standing up to bullying behaviour makes the ‘bully’ go away.  In some cases it can actually put the target of bullying more at risk.

Our major problem in New Zealand is that we rely on the administration, the teachers and staff to respond appropriately without putting the targets in any more danger.  What happened in Wanganui in March of last year, was a perfect example of when this clearly doesn’t work.  In this case a target of bullying reports a threat.  The target and bully are talked to individually – but then what.  Did the Principal really think it was going to go away?  Of course not – the bully is now ticked off that they have been reprimanded, so they are even more fired up – and they lashed out in extreme violence – causing severe injury to the target.

When I deliver workshops to corporates and organisations on bullying type behaviours, I call the workshop “Egos in the Workplace”, because I think we need to look at the behaviour rather than the label.  One of the key points I emphasise, is that when a situation of bullying is alleged, a thorough investigation should occur immediately – talking to other people, finding out whether the allegations of bullying are founded and then taking action.  There should be immediate and very serious consequences for any retaliatory behaviour – expressed clearly to the alleged aggressor and in the case of schools – also expressed to the bully’s parents.  Where was the support for this girl, the target of bullying?  Why was she now alone to deal with the retaliation?

If we are serious about cracking down on bullying, then we need to be serious about the cost that will be associated with the crack down.  Staff need to be trained in responding to allegations of bullying – the responses need to be consistent, firm, immediate.  There is no room for “I am too busy”.  There should be select staff within schools trained in this area – they then become the only ones to respond to the issue – because these teachers / staff take a zero tolerance view, are firm, succinct and follow through.  The target should then have someone assigned to them for a period of time (maybe a more senior student) as support.  The bully should also be supervised – any further unacceptable behaviour is not tolerated.

Let’s be clear.  Bullying behaviour exists – at school, at work.  We turn a blind eye because it’s easier.  We turn a blind eye because we are too busy, or because we don’t like confronting this sort of behaviour either.  We just hope it will go away.  It is unreasonable and unwise to expect targets of bullying to just ‘stand up’ to the behaviour.

Workplaces and schools should be committed to a zero tolerance of bullying – and actually mean what they say.  No more playing lip service to a policy in the manual – we all have to live and breathe the commitment to zero tolerance of abusive behaviour.

If we don’t seriously address the issue of bullying in schools and workplaces – it will continue to cost the country millions of dollars every year in lost productivity, absenteeism, stress leave, medical and legal costs and staff turnover – not to mention the ongoing and sometimes permanent health effects to targets, or worse.

Take action now – choose to become an employer or school of choice.  Choose to create a supportive, zero tolerance environment.  Choose to help our young people and our colleagues make better choices themselves.

It’s a no-brainer!

Linda Guirey

The Choice Champion