Workplace bullying – still commonplace, even in a place called ‘the Commons’

Human Resources 29th October 2018

In our last blog, we discussed the phenomenon known as Queen Bee syndrome.

This is where a woman in a position of authority treats or regards subordinates less fairly, simply because they too are women.

There’s a fairly obvious link here between Queen Bee syndrome and bullying in the workplace – a topic that hit the headlines recently, with allegations that the practice is rife in the Palace of Westminster.

Sexual harassment by MPs – numerous allegations

The topic of workplace bullying took centre stage with the publication of Dame Laura Cox’s report detailing numerous alleged cases of sexual harassment by MPs.  These allegations come from women, who, according to the report, said they were “inappropriately touched” and “repeatedly propositioned”.  These “disturbing” cases had “long been tolerated and concealed”.

Speaker John Bercow’s office responded, saying that the claims were “serious” and should be considered “as a matter of urgency”.  Intriguingly, the same John Bercow who has himself been accused of bullying – claims that he denies.

Does workplace bullying happen where you work?

Think carefully.  It can be tempting to dismiss the question out of hand.  After all, bullying at work is rarely the same as overt bullying of the type that takes place in the school playground.  It’s usually, but not always, more subtle than pushing someone over or name-calling.

Would you know the signs that a member of your team was being bullied?  One of the saddest aspects of workplace bullying is that victims might be ashamed to talk about it – even blaming themselves.  The consequences can be distressing and devastating.

Put yourself in the shoes of the victim.  You’ll be feeling anxious and low – dreading the thought of going to work and facing the individual or group that are picking on you.  Your self-esteem will be at rock-bottom.  You could be having to endure colleagues or superiors behaving in any of the following ways:

• constantly criticising you, taking duties and responsibility away from you without good reason

• shouting at you – making you the object of threats or aggressive (sometimes sexual) behaviour

• putting you down or making you the butt of the jokes

• persistently picking on you in front of others or in private

• constant flirtatious or sexually suggestive behaviour

• constantly ignoring, victimising and excluding you

• mocking and verbally attacking you – all under the guise of ‘banter’

• making you the object of malicious rumours, perhaps about your private life

• misusing their power or position to make you feel uncomfortable or victimised

• making baseless threats about your job security

• blocking your promotion or progress in the workplace

These are just a few signs of bullying.  There are many more – often dependent on the organisation or the industry sector.

Bullying can be devastating.  It can have a dramatic impact on your health and wellbeing.  It can even lead to the victim taking their own life.

Supporting the bully’s victim

What should you do if you think a colleague might be having to endure bullying behaviour?  How can you support them?

1. Spend time with them away from work.  Be a real friend.

2. Encourage them to make a GP appointment.  If matters progress to a tribunal, a doctor’s support could be critical.

3. Encourage them to keep a diary of all incidents with times, dates, witnesses and what happened.  This too will help you enormously at tribunal.

4. Suggest they confide in a manager or the HR department, although this might not be so easy to do if the organisation is small or the bully is a manager.

5. Encourage them to ask at a higher level if the company has a bullying or harassment policy.

6. If they’re a member of a trade union, they could get in touch with them and ask for advice and representation.

7. If they have house insurance, they could be covered for legal expenses too – well worth a check.

In these relatively enlightened days, tribunals are more sensitive to cases of workplace bullying than ever before.

At Gravitas HR, we’re experts in the fields of HR Policies and Discipline and Grievance  .  If you have a potential bullying issue in your business – if you’re in any doubt at all, act quickly and call us – immediately.

Remember – we’re here to help.

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