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Dealing with bullying at work

With research showing that levels of bullying and harassment in the workplace are getting worse,  we ask if your policies for dealing with it are up to scratch? In this month’s article, we provide you with some useful advice on how to handle this often insidious problem.

Bullying and harassment describes any unwanted behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended. However, it is not always obvious and apparent to others and may happen in the workplace without an employer even knowing about it.

Why should you as an employer act against bullying or harassment?
Bullying and harassment will undoubtedly create an unhappy and unproductive workplace which can if neglected, escalate in the following way:

  • Poor morale and poor employee relations
  • Loss of respect for managers or supervisors
  • Poor performance and lost productivity
  • Absence and even resignations
  • Tribunals and other court cases along with payment of compensation

As with anything there are different types and levels of bullying – it can be between two individuals or it can involve groups of people, it might be obvious or it might be more insidious. It may be quite persistent or can be an isolated incident and it can also happen in written communications, by phone, social media and email and not just face-to-face!

Bullying and harassing behaviour could include spreading malicious rumours about someone, insulting someone, exclusion or victimisation, unfair treatment and deliberately undermining a competent person by constant criticism.

Of course, under the Equality Act 2010, harassment is unwanted conduct which is related to age, disability, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation and is therefore unlawful. But despite this legal protection, the reason why bullying can be so hard to detect is that 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 decide to resign, it is therefore really important for employers to ensure that all staff are aware of options available to them to deal with potential bullying or harassment and that these remain completely confidential.

What can you do to prevent bullying or harassment taking place in your organisation?
If you have received a complaint about a member of staff being bullied or harassed, you should take any action you decide upon as quickly as possible. It is always best to try to resolve this informally in the first instance as sometimes a quick word can be all it takes. However, if this fails there are a number of options to consider as follows:

  • You should ensure that your employees know that they have someone in the organisation who they feel comfortable with to discuss the problem, perhaps someone in HR.
  • You should ask them to keep a diary of all incidents and that they keep a record of dates, times and witnesses.
  • You should ask them to keep any relevant letters, emails, notes and so on.

There are also a number of key considerations that should help to prevent this behaviour:

  • Develop and implement a formal anti bullying and harassment policy, this should be kept simple, but you should consider involving staff when writing it.
  • You should set a good example, the behaviour of employers and senior managers is just as important as any formal policy.
  • Maintain fair procedures for dealing promptly with complaints from employees.
  • Set standards of behaviour with an organisational statement about the standards of behaviour expected; this could be included in the staff handbook.

Conclusion
We hope that this article helps to ensure that your anti bullying and harassment policies are indeed up to scratch. But as ever if you need help to ensure that your workplace policies do adhere to best practice and which ultimately can reduce the occurrence of bullying at work then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.