Bullying… It’s talked about a lot, but generally it is regarding school and school children.
However, bullying is a big issue in the workplace, it can cause a lot of stress for all involved and a real headache for the manager or employer trying to deal with the problem.
There is evidence that the incidence of workplace bullying is rising, mainly due to changes in working practices and increased economic pressures.
Bullying can have a significant impact on the victim’s mental and physical health, leading to increased sickness absence and lower productivity. It can also have a negative effect on morale and may cause the employee to resign.
Everyone is encouraged to speak up about bullying and policies generally say that bullying will not be tolerated.
BUT…In reality, what can be done about bullying in the work place – two adults, one feeling harassed by the other?
Most of the bullying is happening behind closed doors or covertly in some way.
It is difficult to discipline somebody where there is little or no evidence, and you need to be treating both of your employees fairly.
What you need to know:
1. Be aware that there are several legal and practical reasons why you should take proactive steps to deal with bullying and harassment in the workplace.
o Employers are liable for acts of harassment carried out by their employees ‘in the course of employment’, regardless of whether the employer knew or approved of an employee’s actions.
o Where the act of harassment is closely connected with the employment relationship, there may also be a civil claim for damages against the harasser and the employer.
2. Familiarise yourself with the definitions of harassment.
o ACAS defines workplace bullying as “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the person being bullied”.
o The Health and Safety Executive stresses that bullying is a pattern of behaviour rather than isolated instances, and states that it “involves negative behaviour being targeted at an individual, or individuals, repeatedly and persistently over time”.
3. Ensure you have a Bullying and Harassment policy and that the policy is well-communicated throughout the workplace.
o An anti-bullying policy is of little value unless the organisation communicates its existence and contents effectively to employees at all levels.
4. Follow the company disciplinary procedure if it appears that bullying or harassment may have taken place.
5. Be consistent in the way that you handle complaints of bullying or harassment.
Anti-bullying measures should focus on prevention, which requires everyone in the organisation to be committed to creating a culture of dignity and respect.
There is evidence that bullying is less likely to occur in an environment where employees feel that the organisation listens to and values their views. Employers could create this culture by: conducting regular employee engagement surveys on various aspects of the workplace culture and environment.
Employers should involve all stakeholders in creating a positive organisational culture and devising and agreeing an anti-bullying policy, including senior managers, line managers, trade unions and other staff representatives, HR, health and safety and occupational health professionals.
The organisation should ensure that the principle of dignity at work and a zero-tolerance culture towards bullying are built into other systems, for example performance management and grievance and disciplinary policies.
Advice to anyone being bullied.
People who feel that they are being bullied should try the formula “confront, record, inform”, before using a more formal procedure:
• Confront: The employee should tell the person who is bullying him or her how he or she feels. The employee should put it in writing if necessary so that he or she can say what he or she wants to say without getting emotional, and so that the bully cannot later say that he or she did not know how the victim felt.
• Record: The employee should keep a diary of the bullying behaviour, including details of incidents, names (including witnesses’ names), dates and how it made the employee feel.
• Inform: If the bullying continues, the employee should speak to someone he or she trusts about it. This will most likely be the line manager, unless, of course, it is the line manager who is the bully, in which case employees should know that they can talk to someone else, for example a designated person in HR, a trade union official or an occupational health professional.
Advice to Employers
Firstly, follow your policy.
The employer should ask:
Is the behaviour excessive, for example in tone or frequency?
Are certain individuals singled out?
Is it broadly fair or without justification or a sense of proportion?
Does the behaviour seem motivated by passion, or by a desire to demonstrate superiority and power?
The manager should advise the complainant to keep evidence of any further incidents that occur, and not to be afraid to make further complaints if necessary.
Following resolution, the manager should meet with the parties from time to time, to minimise the risk of further and long-term damage to individual and team relationships, avoiding the need for management time to be spent on more formal procedures further down the line.
Where the manager cannot resolve the conflict, the organisation may be able to ensure that the parties have less contact in a way that is acceptable to both and does not blame or punish either.
It is vital for the organisation not to “sweep it under the carpet” and allow problems to escalate or fester. Bullying is a serious accusation and as outlined above can have serious consequences if not managed correctly.
If you need help and advice on this or any other HR query – please get in touch on 01787 695084 or email email@example.com