- Bullying - advice for employers
Bullying - advice for employers
While many people associate the term ‘bullying’ with school years, it’s important to remember that bullying can take point at any stage in our lives and anywhere. This includes work. Bullying in the workplace is sadly still a common problem, and one employers should not only be mindful of, but vigilant about.
In this fact-sheet we’ll offer advice for employers, including understanding the difference between bullying and harassment, the importance of having an anti-bullying policy and what to do if an employee is being bullied.
Statistics - our survey results
Our recent survey uncovered some shocking statistics surrounding bullying in the workplace.
- Of the 1000 survey respondents, 30% experienced bullying at work.
- Of those, 60% did not seek any support.
- 63% said their workplace provided no information on bullying or anti-bullying policy.
As an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure a safe and welcoming work environment for your employees.
The difference between bullying and harassment
Although they are closely related and terms are often used interchangeably, bullying and harassment are different things. Here are the definitions as outlined by The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas):
Bullying - ‘Offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.’
Harassment - ‘Unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.’
A key difference is that bullying isn’t against the law, but harassment is. Employees can also make harassment claims even if it is not directed at them. For example if a manager was harassing a member of their team because they are gay, another member of the team could claim harassment against the manager as it has created an offensive office environment for them too.
Bullying and harassment do not always take place face to face, in fact in the workplace it often happens through written communications, email or via telephone. Examples of unacceptable behaviour includes:
- spreading rumours
- unwelcome sexual advances
- copying people into critical emails
- overbearing managing/misuse of power
- threatening job security without grounds to do so
Creating a bullying and harassment policy
If you do not have one yet, the first step to eradicating bullying is to have a robust anti-bullying policy in place. This doesn’t need to be overly complicated, try to include the following:
- A clear statement of commitment.
- A statement saying bullying and harassment are unlawful and will not be tolerated.
- Some examples of what’s considered unacceptable behaviour.
- Recognition that bullying and harassment may lead to disciplinary action.
- Outlining the responsibilities of team leaders and management.
- Confidentiality for any complaint reference to grievance procedures.
- Timescales and outline of investigation and disciplinary procedures.
- Counselling and other support availability.
- Management training.
- How the policy will be implemented, reviewed and monitored.
Having a well-publicised document like this ensures everyone knows what to do if bullying is taking place. This should encourage employees to come forward instead of suffering in silence.
Ensure as the employer you are setting a good example. Help to remove the stigma attached to bullying by encouraging conversation and discussion.
What to do if an employee is being bullied
Thanks to your anti-bullying policy, everyone should be clear on what to do if they witness or experience workplace bullying. If an employee comes to you with a complaint, be clear that you will handle the situation sensitively. Anonymous statements can be used to ease an employee's concerns about the issue being raised with the accused (who will have a right to know the nature of the complaint so they can defend themselves).
Ensure all involved are aware that they need to keep things confidential and that retaliation will not be tolerated. Encourage those involved to keep a diary of events as this may be required for evidence if disciplinary action takes place.
Be sympathetic and talk to your employees on a human level, not an ‘employer to employee’ level. Depending on the situation there are various approaches you could take:
In some instances it is better to approach the situation informally. This may involve a discussion with those involved and an agreement that the behaviour will stop. The individual may choose to do this themselves, or may request the support from HR, a manager or a counsellor.
If a formal complaint is made, follow your company’s disciplinary procedures in line with your anti-bullying policy. Keep in mind that if it is harassment, legal action can be taken.
Mediation and counselling
During the disciplinary procedure, it may be helpful to have a mediator present. This is a voluntary process that involves having an independent third party present to help two or more people in a dispute find a solution.
Counselling can play a vital role in bullying and harassment cases, for both the victim and accused. This offers a confidential avenue for informal approaches and may help resolve issues before formal action is required. You may want to train staff to counsel within your own team or contact a counsellor to support your company.
A key priority for employers and managers alike is managing relationships. During bullying investigations, providing support is paramount. Often it helps to focus on solutions rather than the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ of the incident(s). Listen to the individual’s suggestions and consider the possibility of changing the individual’s duties or working location if this is agreeable - it may be all that’s needed to resolve the situation.
If not addressed, bullying can lead to high staff turnover, increased absence and low team morale. Making it a priority as an employer can make difficult situations easier to handle, contributing to a more positive and happy working environment.
Creating a bully-free environment in the workplace
Consider what factors may result in bullying, for example:
- unclear bullying policy - do employees think they can get away with it?
- change in management structure
- perceived imbalance of power
- high internal competition
Being aware of these can help you be more vigilant against bullying.
Here are some quick fire tips to encourage a bully-free working environment:
- Ensure communication is solid, keep staff updated of change and encourage a collaborative management style.
- Consider diversity training for your staff.
- Keep your anti-bullying policy highly visible.
- Consider alternative incentives for high performers to discourage competitiveness.
- If you’re uncomfortable managing poor performance, seek further training.
Employee Assistance Professional Association (EAPA)
For information on Employee Assistance Programmes, tel 0800 783 7616
For advice on employment-related issues, tel 08457 47 47 47