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How Safe is Your Workplace?

Photo By Keira Burton

How Safe is Your Workplace?

I may think I am a good and safe driver. But I am sure you will agree that all it would take is another bad driver to test my driving skills. It’s the same about workplaces. An organisation may be good with its internal practice but what about those who are external to the organisation?

Over the years I have often heard some fellow professionals saying, we have very good people so there is no question of our workplace being unsafe. However, when asked if their employees are equipped to deal with poor conduct from a visitor, a vendor or a client or when an employee may be visiting someone else’s office; they acknowledge the need to relook at their perspective.

No matter the size and scale of an organisation, creating and maintaining a safe workplace is an obligation of every employer. Organisations need to actively foster and promote a strong culture of safety, year-round so that safety becomes a part of the system’s DNA. That means not only making safety one of the organisation’s main values, it means taking concrete steps to make sure employees have a safe work environment and are constantly striving to improve safety in the workplace.

The onus of creating a safe and positive work culture is often on the leaders and managers of the organisation. But when it comes to realising this goal, most leaders and managers often feel overwhelmed about workplace safety and behavioural issues, some of which extend beyond physical office boundaries and also spread over the digitally connected workplace of today. And worst even is when leaders and managers are not able to identify signs, behaviours, and attitudes that contribute to making the workplace unsafe.

Hence, the first step and the most critical is to recognise what makes for an unsafe workplace – in other words, to correct wrongs, one must after all recognise what’s wrong!

In my experience, unsafe workplaces are often a result of power-plays and create a hostile work environment for some or all employees. In this blog, let’s look at various kinds of situations where power-play is evident. Such behaviours are red flags that can lead to making workplaces unsafe & unhealthy:


Bullying is usually seen as acts or verbal comments that could psychologically or ‘mentally’ hurt or isolate a person in the workplace. Sometimes, bullying can involve negative physical contact as well. Bullying typically involves one time or repeated acts of intimidating to the extent that the person feels cornered – this means exhibiting a pattern of behaviour that is intended to threaten, offend, degrade or humiliate a particular person or group of people. It is often carried out in a way that appears a general norm or targeted in such a way that it does not allow the person to respond because it often triggers the freeze response. I.e. leaving the person stunned such that the person is unable to speak or give any response.

Some signs of bullying could be:

– Spreading malicious rumours, gossip about a person
– Socially excluding someone
– Intimidating a person
– Deliberately undermining a person’s work
– Physically abusing or threatening to abuse
– Targeting or victimising a person

Mental Harassment

This can include failing to provide critical information necessary for the employee to do the job on purpose, interrupting the person, ignoring input(s) and isolating them. Any improper and unwelcome conduct that can cause offence or humiliation to another person. This can typically include putting undue pressure in the form of frequent follow-ups, putting a person down in front of others, and using rude/abusive language. This can cause anxiety and depression in the employees.

Signs of mental harassment:

– Screaming or swearing at the employee in front of others
– Sabotaging work, or stealing the credit for work the victim performed
– Making rude, belittling comments about an employee
– Ridiculing the person in front of others
– Not acknowledging a person’s presence

Sexual harassment

In 2013, India enacted the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 to protect women in both formal and informal sectors. However, for most this law exists only on paper. The law defines sexual harassment as physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favours, making sexually coloured remarks or showing pornography, or any other unwelcome physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.

Any of these acts whether direct or implied, constitute sexual harassment under the law:

    • – Sexualised jokes, language, or images


    • – Unwanted physical contact


    • – Inappropriate conduct based on sexual orientation or gender identity


    • – Retaliation against employees who report sexual harassment


    • – Unwelcome romantic or sexual requests

Sexual harassment definition is both broad and subjective making it practically impossible to put down in form of a comprehensive list.


At the workplace, this includes when an employer, manager, or co-worker treats another employee unfairly based on religion, age, ethnicity, gender, disability, skin colour, or race. This goes beyond workplace behaviour to also encompass hiring and firing practices. Sometimes, discrimination can be top-down, where the employer is actively engaged in discrimination which promotes a work culture of discrimination. The other type of discrimination is vicarious; when an employee discriminates against another employee, and the employer has no evidence to take necessary steps to curb the behaviour.

Signs of discrimination:

– Discrimination based on religious beliefs or beliefs of a spouse
– Treating an employee unfairly based on age. Eg: discriminating against older employees
– Sexual discrimination, or when an employer treats a person differently based on gender
– Discriminating against a woman when she’s pregnant
– Basing decisions like hiring on a person’s race
– Discrimination based on a person’s academic /economic background

One of the hardest parts of identifying discrimination is differentiating it from bullying and harassment. Understanding them better is the first step to improving workplace relations. Discrimination is getting poor treatment and isn’t necessarily directed at a single person. However, harassment and bullying are both targeted specifically. These actions can affect a person’s physical as well as mental health.

Some other signs that something could be unsafe in a workplace are:

– Excessive overtime
– Feeling of ‘no personal life”
– Unusual trends in leave or attrition in a particular department
– Forcing a person to conform to avoidable social norms such as hugging, using profanity and so on in the workplace
– A culture that promotes – a ‘Fit in’ or ‘leave” approach
– A gap in the organisation’s overall culture and team sub-culture

The way to create a safe workplace is to have clear definitions and correspondingly clear policies that list out acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. It is also necessary to train employees regularly and proactively to keep your organisation safe. The business must deal effectively with bullying and mental abuse every time it occurs. Policies should be in place to establish a zero-tolerance for harassment and bullying, and managers must follow the policies by documenting punishing and eventually terminating workers who perpetrate mental abuse.

Leaders must lead by example by rewarding appropriate behaviour, maintaining an open-door policy, and encouraging ethical and responsible teamwork throughout the organisation. This would be the strongest way to send the right message to all employees and to make safety an integral part of the work culture.

At Yellow Spark, we can help you not only define and create policies for a safe workplace but also train your employees so that they contribute to making their workplaces safe. To know more write to us at mailto:contact@yellowspark.in

Author Profile: Aparna Joshi Khandwala is a passionate HR professional. She co-founded Yellow Spark to work with like-minded people who believe in the power of leadership, which is the only business differentiator in today’s time.