Wherever there is work, there is the possibility of workplace bullying rearing its ugly head. It is a bane that all managers and company owners are eager to stamp out, but in many cases the signs of bullying developing slip under the radar. So how can these signs be spotted? And more importantly, what can HR do to deal with them?
Workplace bullying is a very real issue, even in these modern times of employee wellbeing and team-building initiatives. A 2015 UK report revealed that 37% of surveyed employees claimed to have been victims of bullying in the workplace while 21% said they had witnessed work colleagues being bullied. However, of those two groups, over half (52%) had done nothing about it.
And the problem is not restricted to any specific type of enterprise or organisation. In July this year, an inquiry was carried out into work practices in the House of Commons in Westminster, London after complaints of an ingrained bullying culture. It concluded that efforts to address bullying and harassment of parliamentary staff were “insufficient”.
Despite the prevailing idea that bullying is simply colleagues not getting along, the reality is that it has a deeply negative impact on an organisation. It can reduce productivity, lower employee retention, increase absenteeism and result in poorer work quality. This will ultimately cost businesses clients and revenue.
What’s more, the organisation can face serious legal ramifications if an employer is proven not to have done enough to respond to instances of workplace bullying. So, dealing with the problem is a very real obligation.
What Is Workplace Bullying?
One of the reasons bullying can be so difficult to identify is its wide range of examples. In many cases, bullying is accepted in the guise of professional criticism.
Perhaps most surprising is that no legislation exists that prohibits workplace bullying; instead, it is referred to as harassment. According to the UK’s Equality Act 2010, bullying and harassment are defined as “behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended”.
Examples of bullying (or harassment) include:
- Spreading malicious rumours
- Unfair treatment
- Picking on someone
- Regularly undermining a competent worker
- Denying someone training or promotion opportunities
This behaviour is categorised as harassment if it relates to:
- Gender reassignment
- Marriage and Civil Partnership
- Pregnancy and Maternity
- Religion or Belief
- Sexual Orientation
Addressing The Workplace Bullying Problem
So, what can be done? Well, HR Departments can play a key role in dealing with the issue, and indeed creating a better workplace environment. There are also some simple steps to take.
- Have An Anti-Bullying Policy
- Promote Your Company Culture
- Be Approachable
Official policies are proven to help greatly in clarifying issues, so having an official Workplace Anti-Bullying Policy should have a positive result. Make sure to offer clear definitions, strong examples, and to recommend procedures to take and punishments to face. Most of all, outline the behaviour your organisation expects of its employees, regardless of their rank.
Employees should understand workplace bullying is a no-no. Yet, even the most on-board employees can fail to recognise it. A good example is humour: what one person thinks is funny, another may see as offensive or overly critical. Listen for red flag statements like “I was only joking” or “Don’t be so sensitive”.
For victims of bullying and harassment, there is a tendency to bury their experiences and feeling deep down. This is not a good idea. So, you need to let everyone know that management is approachable on the subject. Keep your door open to these issues, and that equal treatment is guaranteed.
Where a case arises that need action, there needs to be a clear procedure to follow.
- Formal Investigation
Get the facts of an incident in a confidential and informal way. There is more than one side to a story so it’s important to listen to all sides involved.
Try to find a solution between the parties. This depends heavily on willingness on both sides, but it can be the most amicable way to resolve the situation.
If the steps above are unfruitful, then the next step is a formal investigation. This is where your Employee Policy takes over, with a defined procedure and disciplinary process to follow.
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