Expert explains how to deal with inappropriate behaviour in the workplace

Employment experts give their tips on how to handle inappropriate behaviour from colleagues

Ellie Muir
Sunday 23 April 2023 13:06 BST
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Does your boss follow you on Instagram? Does a colleague put their hand on your shoulder when they speak to you? Are you made to feel uncomfortable by a co-worker?

It’s difficult to know what to do when you’re made to feel uncomfortable in a work scenario, especially if you feel like your personal boundaries are being intruded upon.

The first thing to know is that if you’re made to feel uncomfortable and you can sense that a line has been crossed – trust your instincts. According to expert Amy Spurling, it is “never the wrong time” to bring in HR.

Here are five tips for dealing with inappropriate behaviour in the workplace:

1. Keep a record of each incident 

Bianca Riemer, Board Member at International Coaching Federation UK, who is responsible for training new bosses to address conflict in the workplace, advises keeping a list of the inappropriate behaviour, including when it happened, and who else was present.

2. Make a decision: go to HR or try to talk about it first?

“Decide whether you want to raise a grievance with HR, or whether you want to try and resolve the issue by talking to the individual first,” says Riemer.

3. Tell your colleague about the pattern you’ve noticed

If you do decide to talk to the individual about the incident, Riemer advises keeping the list handy so you can reference specific examples.

“Tell the individual about the pattern you have noticed, what the implication is for your working relationship, and ask them how they see it,” adds Riemer.

4. Listen to them 

The coaching and leadership expert also advises listening to the person and letting them explain their own understanding of the situation.

“If the person denies what happened or becomes defensive, you may want to finish the conversation and resolve it with HR,” Reimer says.

5. Think about going to HR again

Spurling says that HR can prove a great “sounding board” in situations of conflict resolution, as well as giving you resources on how to deal with the scenario going forward.

6. Politely suggest a change in your colleague’s behaviour

Then, Reimer says, imagine how you want their behaviour to change.

“Suggest a change to their behaviour – think about what exactly you’d want them to change ahead of the conversation. The new behaviour may simply be that they stop doing something, or start doing something.”

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