Bullying in the Workplace

graphic of bullied female employee

Despite growing awareness, bullying in the workplace continues to be a problem for at least a third of UK employees. American business magazine Forbes even rates it as a much higher statistic at 75% of US employees having encountered workplace bullying.

It can come from a manager or colleague and usually constitutes clear and deliberate behaviour to another member of staff,  but can occasionally be unintentional or careless, with the instigator simply unaware that their behaviour is hurtful or intimidating. It is also not unusual for accusations of bullying to be made in response to someone having their own behaviour or performance challenged or in the case of a personality clash. 

However with any of these scenarios, there is a risk of reputational damage for the accused or even accuser which can have a significant effect on individuals’ work, performance and confidence to speak out, as well as an impact on the culture and engagement of the overall team.

How to prevent bullying in the workplace

1. Identify what Bullying is
Although there is no legal definition, it is not enough in itself for the complainant to have perceived bullying. When conducting an investigation, look for a pattern of behaviour that is offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting or an abuse of power, through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the person being bullied. 

Examples could include repeated:

• Belittling or humiliating comments
• Practical jokes or pranks at the expense of an individual
• Social exclusion
• Unreasonable work expectations

Consider how to interpret ‘banter’ or ‘personality clashes’ which are common defences of bullying, and how to develop employee’s self-awareness of the impact of their language and behaviours, particularly where there is an imbalance of power.

2. Create a policy on bullying and harassment
Build upon on your standard grievance and disciplinary procedures. Include standards of language and behaviour you expect – what is and isn’t appropriate or tolerated? Be clear what will happen when reports are made.

3. Promote a culture of dignity and respect
And a safe environment to challenge and speak out. Develop a clear framework with training for managers and a performance management system that delivers ongoing, real-time and open dialogue between employees and management. Are your managers skilled and equipped to challenge behaviour?

4. Ensure accountability is exercised and not excused 
Make sure staff hierarchy in terms of seniority or high performers does not enable poor treatment of more junior staff members. Encourage senior management to lead by example. Behaviour from the top can often set the trend for the rest of the business.

5. Investigate complaints promptly
How a business deals with complaints sends a clear message of what will and won’t be tolerated, as well as how efficiently action is taken. Always take a complaint seriously regardless of the personalities involved. If relationships are too close for impartiality, consider bringing in an independent agency or professional to investigate.

6. Minimise workplace stress
Stress can often trigger conflict and bullying is less likely to thrive in a positive working environment. Consider staff wellbeing initiatives such as flexible working, subsidised exercise memberships, learning opportunities or other benefits.

7. Show staff they are valued
A happy and engaged team will lead to high performance, productivity and staff retention. Identify what drivers will work for your team and recognise individuality. Develop a shared mission and reward effort and contribution.

And lastly – be consistent! Whatever standards are put in place will only embed and grow into a culture if there is trust that company will live by them.

Charlotte Allfrey