The definition of bullying is when an individual or group of people with more power, repeatedly and intentionally cause harm to an individual or group of people.
We assume this type of behaviour is left at the school gates; that bullying is a problem which only affects the younger generation and won’t be tolerated in adulthood. But this isn’t always the case.
In 2016, a study revealed that 75% of workers are affected by bullying. Bullying in the workplace can be incredibly distressing for those involved. It can affect mental health, self-esteem, and if left unresolved, the victim may decide to terminate their contract of employment.
At Ascendant Recruitment, we wanted to write about this topic as it’s an issue that affects many individuals and businesses, big or small. It’s important to deal with each case in a professional and sensitive manner. So what can employers do to prevent bullying in the workplace? What procedures should be in place to protect staff and minimise conflict?
Ahead of World Day of Bullying Prevention on the 1st October, and to shed some light on the issue, we spoke to Sarah Neyland, the MD of People Tower Ltd, an HR consultancy based in Milton Keynes. Sarah has over 30 years’ experience in HR, and works with smaller businesses advising on disciplinarians and dismissals.
How often do you come across cases that involve harassment or bullying in the workplace?
“It’s more prevalent with larger businesses as there’s less transparency and it tends to be impersonal. In my experience, smaller businesses suffer less.”
What are most common examples you’ve seen?
“The majority of cases involve disputes between older managers with younger staff. I’ve worked a lot in the manufacturing industry, and have seen cases where managers have been vocally aggressive to staff. There’s a real dichotomy between old-fashioned management techniques versus the procedures in place today. This causes resentment and conflict.”
“Discrimination is easier to deal with, as it’s evidence-based and there’s less of a grey area. If someone has made racist or sexist comments, for example, they are easier to report and most workplaces have anti-discrimination policies in place that are effective prevention measures. However, bullying can be hidden and is not as transparent.”
What advice you’d give to someone experiencing bullying in the workplace?
“Talk to somebody. If you’ve got an HR department go to them and start keeping a diary. The more facts you have recorded the easier it is to use as evidence. It’s also important you get as much support from colleagues as possible.”
What advice would you give to an employer?
“Investigate the issue properly. Look into the case and act sensitively and professionally. Try and find as many objective ways to gather evidence, such as speaking to employees who might have witnessed the bullying.”
“Talk to the individual affected (in a private space) and try and understand the case. Who else was in the room? Was there CCTV etc.? Be gentle with people. Try and get them to be honest.”
“Make sure you have a basic policy in writing or procedure in place, and that there’s an HR advisor to report to. Seek advice where needed. Make it clear that bullying and harassment won’t be tolerated.”
Ask yourself the following questions:
If an employee has escalated the issue to HR, but is dissatisfied with the support, where should they go next?
“Speak to someone who is sympathetic and more senior than yourself – perhaps a line manager or head of department.”
“Alternatively, there are a number of helpful tools online, such as the Acas helpline which offers free and impartial advice. If you’re looking to take your case to employment tribunal, you can call the Tribunals helpline on 0808 800 2222.”
“For businesses and employers who are looking for further HR support, People Tower Ltd is a local boutique business that offers consultancy services. CIPD also provide useful tools, content and case law on bullying and harassment in the workplace.”
Finally, we asked our MD Nick Peacock for his thoughts on bullying in the workplace. What advice would you give to someone who has experienced bullying in their previous role, but is interviewing for a new position elsewhere?
“I would always advise that any description of bullying is not raised in an interview. Discuss the most cogent reason for you moving on from your last role [with your recruiter] and stick to that when you are interviewed.”
“It’s important to put the bullying in context, because typically it’s one person administering the bullying. It’s best to be professional and focus on the new role itself and why you’re suitable as an applicant. Try and view it as a fresh start!”