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TOXIC WORKING ENVIRONMENTS

For some time now, we have acknowledged the existence of a psychological contract alongside the official employment agreement. However, it has only been recently that this concept has been formally recognised in legislation.

The reality is that while employees offer their labour to employers, this was never intended to lead to a relationship where human dignity is disregarded, and it becomes a master-servant dynamic. In fact, the Latin phrase "contra bonos mores," meaning contrary to morals, customs, or a good way of life, has always been a core legal principle.

Regrettably, it is only in recent times that the Code of Good Practice on the Prevention and Elimination of Harassment has shed more light on what a psychologically safe work environment should entail, by defining its characteristics –


· Not joking at the expense of others

· Constant criticism

· Marginalisation

· Threats of dismissal

· Victimisation

· Racism and sexual harassment

· Or any other conduct that undermines human dignity.

Unfortunately, due to the significant uncertainty and disruptions in recent years, numerous workplaces have turned more toxic because people struggle with self-awareness, self-regulation, and effective leadership. Nonetheless, it is important to note that Emotional Intelligence (EQ) can be developed and is closely tied to better overall organisational performance.

South African legislation emphasizes the importance of maintaining a safe and respectful work environment through the Code of Good Practice on the Prevention and Elimination of Harassment.

The code aims to address and eliminate harassment in workplaces and highlights that a psychologically safe environment is essential, where employees are treated with dignity and respect.

The code emphasizes the need for employers to take proactive measures to prevent harassment, including clear policies, training, and effective reporting mechanisms.

It encourages a culture of awareness, sensitivity, and accountability. By adhering to this code, workplaces can foster a healthier and more productive atmosphere while upholding the principles of equality and fairness.

A Harassment policy should provide and promote the following principles at least to create a safe and respectful work environment:

No Tolerance:

Establish a clear policy that harassment in any form is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

Definition of Harassment:

Clearly define what constitutes harassment, including various forms such as verbal, physical, visual, and online harassment.

Education and Training:

Provide training to employees to help them understand what constitutes harassment, how to recognize it, and how to report incidents.

Reporting Mechanisms:

Implement a confidential and accessible system for reporting harassment incidents, ensuring protection for whistleblowers.

Investigation and Resolution:

Outline a fair and impartial process for investigating complaints and taking appropriate actions to address and resolve them.

Support for Victims:

Offer support mechanisms for victims of harassment, including counselling and resources to cope with the effects.

Accountability:

Hold both harassers and bystanders accountable for their actions or inaction.

Prevention Strategies:

Implement measures to prevent harassment, such as fostering a culture of respect, diversity, and inclusion, and promoting awareness campaigns.

Leadership Commitment:

Demonstrate strong leadership commitment to promoting a harassment-free workplace.

Regular Review:

Periodically review and update the policy and procedures to ensure their effectiveness and relevance.



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