Supporting the Workplace
Bullying and Harassment creates an unhappy and unproductive workplace which can result in poor morale and poor performance. A recent survey sponsored by the TUC found that 1 in 3 employees felt they had been bullied at work and 30% have witnessed bullying in the workplace. Bullying currently causes the loss of 18 million working days every year at a cost of £18 billion a year to the UK economy, from sickness related absences, staff turnover and the reduction of productivity. Of course, there’s much more to bullying than just the financial implications, with costs to people’s well-being and mental health being high.
Yet, bullying still isn’t considered a major risk to businesses. How do we get people to listen? How can we get people to fully understand the damage this destructive behaviour does and recognise bullying for the serious problem it is?
Understanding Reasons for Workplace Bullying
There are many different reasons that cause a person to bully another and while we might like to think that no identifiable characteristic would bring unwanted attention, anyone can be bullied at work.
But what about workplace hierarchy? In responding to a CIPD study, 43% of those bullied at work reported that harassment stemmed from a line manager, with 38% saying that it came from colleagues. One in five had suffered bullying from a senior manager or chief executive. With more authority, comes great responsibility, but it can also lessen accountability. Those at the top may feel that they’re simply too indispensable to be reprimanded, or their position means that people may not report the abuse.
How can bullying affect the workplace?
Bullying affects the overall “health” of an organisation and there is a need for change. A company’s people are its most important asset and bullying is an issue that not only affects the individual being bullied. It also affects the manager that is dealing with the issue and the entire staff team and working environment. It is important to challenge unacceptable behaviour in the workplace as an “unhealthy” workplace can have many detrimental effects, including:
- Increased absenteeism
- Increased staff turnover
- Increased stress
- Increased costs for Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), recruitment, mediation etc.
- Increased risk for accidents / incidents
- Decreased productivity and motivation
- Decreased morale
- Reduced corporate image and customer confidence
- Poor customer service
In unhealthy work environments that allow bullying to occur, the problem can be inherent in the work culture. If intimidation or harassment becomes part of the culture, it sets a dangerous example. In the workplace so many excuses are made for this unacceptable behaviour ranging from ‘it’s just his robust management style’ to saying ‘it’s just a bit of banter’.
Fostering a culture that is free from bullying is vital and needs to come from the top down. Management commitment is the most important component of preventing bullying in the workplace and is best demonstrated through a robust policy structure which is communicated to all staff.
Bullying and harassment can be verbal, non verbal, written, or physical so your policy should be comprehensive and one that covers a range of incidents, from bullying and harassment to physical violence. Your policy needs to make it clear that this type of behaviour is considered a gross misconduct and those found guilty will be dismissed.
Your policy structure must:
- Be developed by management and employee representatives
- Apply to management, employees, clients, independent contractors and anyone who has a relationship with your company
- Define what you mean by workplace bullying (or harassment or violence) in precise, concrete language
- Provide clear examples of unacceptable behaviour and working conditions
- State in clear terms your organisation’s view toward workplace bullying and its commitment to the prevention of workplace bullying
- Precisely state the consequences of making threats or committing acts of bullying
- Outline the process by which preventive measures will be developed
- Encourage reporting of all incidents of bullying or other forms of workplace violence
- Outline the confidential process through which employees can report incidents and to whom
- Assure there will be no repercussions for those reporting employees
- Outline the procedures for investigating and resolving complaints
- Describe how information about potential risks of bullying/violence will be communicated to employees
- Make a commitment to provide support services to those affected by bullying
- Offer a confidential Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to allow employees with personal problems to seek help
- Make a commitment to fulfil the prevention training needs of different levels of personnel within the organisation
- Make a commitment to monitor and regularly review the policy
- State applicable regulatory requirements, where possible
- Encourage everyone at the workplace to act towards others in a respectful and professional manner
- Create a culture of acceptance, tolerance and respect
- Have a workplace policy in place that includes a reporting system
- Educate everyone that bullying is a serious matter
- Try and resolve situations before they get serious or out of control
- Ensure everyone is aware of what constitutes bullying and to whom they can go to for help
- Treat all complaints seriously and deal with them promptly and confidentially
- Train supervisors and managers in how to deal with complaints and potential situations. Encourage them to address situations promptly whether or not a formal complaint has been filed
- Train your staff to be aware of and manage their own behaviour towards others
- Have an impartial third party help with the resolution, if necessary
- IGNORE any potential problems.
- DELAY resolution. Act as soon as possible.
It is important that Boards, Directors and Senior Management are vigilant and put in place constant monitoring procedures to ensure their employees are protected. They need to ask themselves what steps are being taken to ensure a caring, respectful culture is embedded within their organisation. Employers are responsible for preventing bullying and harassment and they’re liable for any harassment suffered by their employees.
Visit our training page for information on Creating a Safe and Healthy Workplace
Workplace bullying and harassment
Bullying and harassment is behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended. Harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. Of course, bullying is a form of harassment. Bullying and harassment means any unwanted behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended. It is not necessarily always obvious or apparent to others and may happen in the workplace without an employer’s awareness.
Bullying or harassment can be between two individuals or it may involve groups of people. It can often be hard to recognise – symptoms may not be obvious to others and may be insidious. It can also occur in written communications, by phone or through email, not just face-to-face.
Bullying itself isn’t against the law, but harassment is. Examples of bullying / harassing behaviour could include:
- spreading malicious rumours, or insulting someone
- exclusion or victimisation
- unfair treatment
- deliberately undermining a competent worker by constant criticism
- ridiculing or demeaning someone – picking on them or setting them up to fail
- overbearing supervision or other misuse of power or position
- unwelcome sexual advances – touching, standing too close, display of offensive materials, asking for sexual favours, making decisions on the basis of sexual advances being accepted or rejected
- making threats or comments about job security without foundation
- deliberately undermining a competent worker by overloading and constant criticism
- preventing individuals progressing by intentionally blocking promotion or training opportunities
Under the Equality Act 2010, harassment is unwanted conduct which is related to one of the following: age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation and is therefore unlawful.
People do not always feel able or confident enough to complain, particularly if the harasser is a manager or senior member of staff. Sometimes they will simply resign. It is therefore very important for employers to ensure that staff are aware of options available to them to deal with potential bullying or harassment, and that these remain confidential.
Employers are responsible for preventing bullying and harassment and they are liable for any harassment suffered by their employees.
Anti-bullying and harassment policies and training can help prevent problems and help create a happy, friendly and respectful working environment. Please click here to view our training.