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When Leadership Becomes Bullying.

Workplace bullying is often associated with large corporations where conflict flies under the radar until a claim is made. Conflict and bullying in partnerships and startups is more obvious. Startups experience conflict more often than not, and in some cases, conflict can turn into bullying. Someone who considers themselves a strong leader can often evolve their motivational speeches into demanding orders as leadership turns into control. Workplace bullying costs Australian businesses $6b every year without accounting for the opportunity cost involved with settling feuds, and for startups and small businesses, conflict can be the demise of the venture. Heres is an overview of what you need to know to minimise the risk of bullying and conflict in your startup.


Find the right partner.
The best way to prevent conflict and bullying in a startup is to choose your partners wisely. The more partners involved in starting a business the more chance the dynamics will breakdown and the venture will fail, so start as small as you can. Take your time when finding a partner, the first person you think of might not be the best in the long run. One red flag in a potential partner is they are your friend or part of your family. Sure, you’ve known them a long time and you might trust them but people often operate differently in the office than they do socially or at home. Conflict and possible failure when involved with friends or family, could be harder to manage than in usual partnerships because it is personal. You definitely want to work with someone you get along with but try and find someone you can work well with objectively, who you can speak to seriously without personal feelings getting hurt along the way.


Create policies from the start.
Once you’ve found your partner(s) and you’re about to start working together, create workplace behaviour and anti bullying policies, no matter how sure you are that there will be no trouble. These policies should outline the behaviour expected of everyone in the organisation, personally and professionally. Your workplace behaviour policy should cover, in detail, the objectives of the workplace behaviour standards policy, what behaviour is acceptable and what is not and where people can turn if they feel victimised. Having behavioural standards clear and up front keeps everyone on the same level for what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. This way employees can be referred to the written policy guide rather than word of mouth rules keeping confusion to a minimum.

Smart Equity splits
Equity splits are like marriage prenups for businesses. They can also set guidelines for responsibility so that partners can be clear on performance expectations in the long run. Different organisations have different methods of splitting equity, some work out and others turn into nightmares. The quick and easy way to split equity is for partnerships to go 50/50 up front. This sounds fair at first, equal parts for all parties, but when the honeymoon period is over and the real work begins, it doesn’t seem so fair when one partner is pulling the dead weight of the other. A different way to manage an equity split is a slower, more considered approach which looks at the realistic outcome of each partner’s skill set, time available to put into the business, commitment levels and funding from each partner among other factors. Starting a business is an uncertain time for all but a serious discussion about expectations and realistic ability in new ventures could lead to a happier conclusion with less and conflict in the future. If one member is unable to commit as much time and has a smaller skill set compared to the other partner who is committing 100% of their time and has a wider range of skills, then an uneven equity split that fits those factors may be more appropriate for long term happiness.


Sustained happiness.
As they say, prevention is better than cure. Prepare your startup or business for the threat of conflict and bullying before the business even begins. By taking your time and finding the right person to be your partner, you’ve already minimised your risk of conflict. The right agreement for an equity split keeps roles for the partners defined and expectations up front so that there is clarity for performance in the future. In addition to these initial guidelines, the immediate implementation of a workplace behaviour agreement keeps everyone informed on how to act in the workplace for everyone’s comfort and safety.

This is simply a guide to what your startup or business should look into to prevent workplace bullying and conflict between partners.


You can find full guides for preventing and responding to workplace bullying here

The effects of workplace bullying can be serious for mental health.

If you or someone you know is having trouble with bullying in the workplace you can contact Lifeline or Beyond Blue for help.

Lifeline or phone 13 11 14

Beyond Blue or phone 1300 22 4636