Bullying in the Workplace: A Guide

22nd April 2016

OPERATIONS

80%.
When you’re talking about workplace bullying, 80% is a significant statistic.
80% of workers have experienced bullying in the workplace. Some of those will have been bullied once or twice, with issues later being resolved, whilst others will be victims of a relentless campaign of mistreatment or abuse that causes major difficulty.
80% of managers, bosses and employers know that people are being bullied in their workplace, because they’ve seen it or have heard about it.
A couple of other workplace bullying statistics:

  • 25% of workers have been bullied to the point that their work performances has been affected.
  • 10% of workers claim to have been victims of physical bullying or assault.

Did you know?

Between January 1996 and January 2004, the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line was in existence. This phone line was open to provide help and advice to victims of workplace bullying. It was funded entirely by its creator, Tim Field, using the proceeds of his book sales.
In the 8 years that it existed, the phone line received 9,084 enquiries (that’s 1,136 a year on average).

What needs to happen to reduce workplace bullying?

80% is a shocking statistic.
Companies can help to reduce workplace bullying by having clear policies and procedures relating to the issue, and by following these policies through. Workplace bullying shouldn’t be ignored.
Not all incidents can be avoided. Managers can’t stop workplace bullying from happening in the first place, but the key is to have a fast and strong response as soon as it’s brought to light.
Not reacting to workplace bullying can quickly lead to an increase in the number of sick days taken, a decrease in productivity and, ultimately, an increase in staff turnover. There will also be costs involved, not just in sick pay and recruitment but also in any litigation costs.
Employers have a responsibility to have a zero tolerance policy to bullying in the workplace, treating it as gross misconduct if it’s happening. Policies are great, but they need to be acted upon.
Training can also help to reduce workplace bullying. Good management training will ensure that management styles aren’t too harsh, whilst specific training relating to bullying and discrimination can help employees to understand what constitutes bullying, how to recognise it and how to respond to it.
Employees also need to be told that their concerns and reports will be taken seriously. Otherwise, they might suffer being bullied in silence.

What can an employee do if they’re being bullied?

If an employee is being bullied, they should bring attention to the matter as soon as possible. This might include going to a manager or to the HR department. If the manager is involved, contacting a trade union can give access to further support.
Employees should ask their managers about any bullying or harassment policies. These policies should be followed. The local Citizens Advice Bureau can provide further help and advice.

What is workplace bullying, really?

Knowing what to do in the event of workplace bullying is all well and good, but how do you identify when it’s happening? The truth is that some victims of workplace bullying don’t even realise that it’s happening, even if they recognise that they’re not quite being treated right.
Workplace bullying can include, but is not limited to:

  • Being picked on, particularly if this is a regular occurrence.
  • Being humiliated in front of colleagues.
  • Being given too much work on a regular basis, so that it’s impossible to keep up and do things properly.
  • Being given impossible tasks that can’t be completed adequately.
  • Being given meaningless jobs, or constantly being given the unpleasant jobs that should be shared out more equally.
  • Being the victim of malicious gossip.
  • Being deliberately ‘kept in the dark’ about important information.
  • Being blamed for issues that have been caused by other people.
  • Being physically or verbally abused.
  • Being excluded or ignored.
  • Being treated unfairly.
  • Being threatened, including being threatened with the loss of a job.
  • Being denied training opportunities, or ignored when promotion opportunities are available.

What should an employee do if they’re being bullied?

The first step is to record experiences, keeping a diary of the bullying, along with any evidence such as emails and notes.
A manager should be approached, or alternatively the HR department. If the employee doesn’t feel that they can talk comfortably to a manager, then their local CAB can provide more help and information.
Bullying policies are good to have at the ready, to see what the company promises to do if workplace bullying is actually taking place. These policies should be followed, and put into action as soon as possible. The workplace bullying policy should also include information about what steps to take, and who should be approached for support.
An employee might want to take an informal approach at first, alerting a manager to the issue and then speaking directly with the bully. This might be enough to stop the bullying, particularly if the bully wasn’t aware that they were causing any upset. A team manager, company manager or HR manager may be able to help with mediation if things can’t be resolved more casually.
If the informal approach doesn’t work, then a more formal complaint might be required. This may include following a formal complaints procedure or taking legal action.

When is bullying more than just bullying?

Workplace bullying isn’t against the law. Employees might take legal action if they feel that they’ve been bullied or mistreated and that their employer hasn’t done anything to help, but the actual act of bullying isn’t illegal. Harassment, however, is.
Bullying might be classed as harassment if it’s related to the victim’s age, sex, gender, marriage status, pregnancy, race, religion, sexual orientation or disability.
Employers are liable for any harassment suffered by their employees, so it’s in every employer’s best interests to keep bullying out of the workplace!

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