Bullying in the workplace

There is no place for bullying in today’s society. It can be incredibly harmful to the victim and there can be damaging repercussions for your organisation as it:-

  • -Puts your ability to provide a safe and healthy working environment at risk.
  • -Can lead to disciplinary and grievance situations (which are stressful for everyone involved).
  • -Creates a bad culture, which impacts team morale and employee engagement.
  • -Increases employee turnover and recruitment costs.
  • -Ruins your company’s reputation and employee branding.

Allowing bullying to happen in your workplace can have terrible consequences.

What defines bullying in a workplace setting?

There is no legal definition of workplace bullying. However, Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) states bullying is ‘offensive, intimidating, malicious, or insulting behaviour, or abuse, or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate, or injure the recipient’.

It typically involves a power relationship. This could mean a manager and employee, or it can be groups of people for example groups of employees misusing their authority.

It is important to note that bullying does not have to take place in the workplace for it to be an employer’s responsibility to resolve. We see a lot of bullying taking place outside of work, especially online. This can include social media, text messaging, and even at social events unrelated to work but with work colleagues present.

As an employer, you do have a legal responsibility to protect the health and wellbeing of your employees, as well as their safety, as per the Health and Safety at Work Act and this can include protecting employees from bullying.

In a study by CIPD, 15% of employees reported that they had experienced bullying. That’s twice the amount that reported harassment.

How to prevent bullying in the workplace?

It is important to create a culture where bullying is simply not accepted in any form. Here are some ideas on what you need in place to have an anti-bullying culture;

1. Have a policy with a clear commitment to protecting employees from bullying, outlining what behaviours are unacceptable, and how incidents will be dealt with, as well as the possible consequences if someone is found to be bullying. This should be communicated to all employees, including managers.

2. Have an effective leadership team. Your leaders will influence organisational culture and they must demonstrate your values and how bullying behaviour will not be tolerated. This means fast action when issues are reported, showing everyone respect, being amicable, and allowing  concerns to be raised privately and confidentially.

3. Awareness training is a good for all employees in the organisation. The training should make everyone aware of what constitutes bullying behaviours, as well as what to do if they believe it is happening around them.

4. Coaching and mentoring may be suitable to help managers focus on interpersonal relationships and to diffuse any potential problems before they arise. It can also make them more confident when dealing with conflict and difficult situations.

Managers really need to be confident in dealing with issues, and employees need to feel confident that managers will act appropriately (if that belief isn’t there, it makes it far less likely that problems will be reported).

Taking preventative action has many benefits, including encouraging open and honest communication within the organisation and creating a more comfortable environment for everyone.

What to do if someone is being bullied

Even if you have all of the above in place it is still possible you may receive a complaint of bullying in your business. What is important is that your employees all know how to raise a complaint, who they go to, and that they feel confident in doing so.

Typically, a complaint should be raised initially with a line manager. However, if the line manager is alleged to be bullying, then it should go to someone more senior or the HR team. This process should be outlined in your bullying policy.

It is worth noting that in some cases, someone may raise a complaint, but not want to take it further (potentially for fear of reprisal), but it is your duty to respond to an allegation once it’s been reported. If you fail to challenge or investigate it, it could suggest that you are colluding with or condoning the behaviour.

Take any allegation seriously. Reassure the complainant that you will investigate, show concern for their wellbeing (you may offer counselling as part of your duty of care), but do not act without properly investigating.

Remember, you also have a duty of care to the person accused of bullying during your investigation. That means ensuring clear and timely communication and providing support where appropriate.

Investigate the complaint fully, fairly, and thoroughly. At this point, it may be beneficial to involve both professional support and someone independent to investigate. This could be someone from your HR team, independent HR consultants like us, or a senior manager from another department in your business.

Inform the accused of the complaint against them, and if necessary, suspend them on full pay (this should only be used in exceptional cases, it should be made clear that this is a precautionary measure only and it should last for as short a time as possible). Remember If the allegation is serious enough to consider suspension, it should be reviewed frequently. You may decide instead to move the accused to another department or location to prevent contact between parties.

While you investigate, you may find witnesses wish to remain anonymous. Whilst you may be able to do this, avoid giving guarantees, because reports often make it easy to identify people, and in cases of cyber bullying, online accounts may need to be screenshotted.

If you believe bullying has taken place, after a thorough investigation, you must act according to your relevant procedure (this may mean disciplinary action). At this stage, you must remember your responsibility to demonstrate intolerance of bullying behaviour, although dismissal should not be an automatic consequence.

If, on the other hand, there is insufficient evidence of bullying, you must inform the complainant of how that decision has been reached and why no formal action will be taken. You must also inform the accused of the outcome.

You may want to offer mediation to help rebuild the relationship between the employees involved.

It is extremely important that you take the necessary time and allocate resource to deal with any complaint properly. That includes investigation, resolution, and ensuring procedures are followed. What is equally, if not more vital, is that you take proactive steps to implement the correct preventative measures in the first place.

This is something we can help you with so please get in touch at letstalk@albanyhr.com  or call us on 0131 364 4186

Albany HR can support with:

  • -Bullying allegations
  • -Investigations
  • -Disciplinaries
  • -Grievances
  • -Mediation
  • -Coaching and Mentoring
  • -Bullying and Harassment Policies.

breathe sign for workplace bullying