Bullying and harassment – could it happen in your workplace?

Human Resources 13th November 2019

This week is Anti-Bullying week. Maybe you’ve already seen some of the publicity, much of which has been promoted by The Anti-Bullying Alliance.  The theme this year is ‘Change starts with us’ – a message that’s just as relevant and important today as it’s always been – both in schools and in the workplace. Perhaps the big difference today is that bullying is at last being recognised as damaging behaviour, causing deep unhappiness to the victim that can leave them permanently depressed. Sometimes it even leads to suicide.

We fervently hope that campaigns like this will bring about a cultural change, sooner rather than later. We need to break the pernicious cycle, initially among young people, so that it doesn’t flare up when they enter the workplace. When it does take place at work, we need to counter bullying behaviour by challenged it and addressing it head-on.

Clearly, bullying can negatively impact a childhood, and, of course, schools should be made a safe environment. But while we pretty much know what constitutes bullying at school, and can agree that no forms of bullying should be tolerated, what about the workplace? What is workplace bullying and harassment? Why does it happen? And what can you do if you feel it’s happening to you?

What is bullying in the workplace?

ACAS uses the following definition –

‘offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient’.

A recent disturbing report by Slater & Gordon revealed that more 33% of those surveyed had endured some degree of workplace bullying.

Bullying and harassment are not restricted to verbal and physical abuse. Examples include

– refusing training opportunities

– blocking promotion

– spreading rumours about a colleague

– removing responsibilities without explanation

– constantly changing work guidelines

– creating impossible deadlines.

Any of these can happen face-to-face, by email, by letter, email or by phone.

Why does bullying happen?

In a world where budgets are tight and competition is fierce, employees often find themselves pitted against each other – creating a destructive environment. In such situations, there will rarely be any winners. The bullies might be rewarded with promotion, and the abuse cycle continues.

Don’t fall into the trap of believing that it’s only shy, sensitive or awkward introverts who are targets of bullies. It can just as easily be the outgoing high achievers who are causing envy amongst their colleagues, resulting in bullying behaviour.

What can you do about it?

In many cases, a big part of the problem is lack of awareness or involvement by senior management. Organisational changes and restructuring can also lead to uncertainty and work overload. This in turn can cause a rise in workplace bullying.

Quite simply, employers define work conditions, the environment and the culture. So, that’s exactly where the buck stops .

Whatever the reason for bullying, it’s up to the employer to make a stand, to shake up the workplace culture and to set clearly defined borders of acceptable behaviour.

It’s now the law

The Equality Act of 2010 is unequivocal – harassment is unlawful and employers are responsible for preventing bullying, and liable for any harassment suffered by their employees.

Do you feel you’re being bullied? If so, you should arrange an informal meeting with your manager, HR department or trade union representative. If this doesn’t do the trick and resolve the issue, then it’s time to make a formal complaint using your employer’s grievance procedure.

Sadly, there are still employers who fail to recognise bullying and harassment in their place of work. Many employees choose instead to work for an employer who has applied a robust and clear anti-bullying strategy to their workplace.

Here to help

As HR and employment specialists, we have a clear understanding of the issues that arise from workplace harassment and bullying. We’re here to support you in every aspect of people management.

For straight-talking advice, call us – 01604 763494

Or email – info@GravitasHR.co.uk

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