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Unlike discrimination, there is no statutory definition of bullying. It is characterised by ACAS as ‘offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient’. Bullying can include anything from verbal threats to being excluded or ignored. It can take place face-to-face but can also be written and via phone, email or social media. Everyone has the right to be treated with decency and courtesy at work. Bullying should not be tolerated in the workplace.

The charity Family Lives recently conducted a survey on workplace bullying. Of 1,500 workers, 38 per cent said they were bullied by a colleague while 63 per cent said they had been bullied by a line manager or someone more senior. It happened to me in the last job I did as an employee. I was bullied by the HR Director, no less. Despite the positive feedback from managers and staff, I was criticised for my work. Until that point both the quality and quantity of the work I had done for every employer I had worked for had always been applauded. When I fell victim to a bully who abused his seniority, the stupidity and unreasonableness of the campaign almost took me to a breakdown. I decided that never again would I work for anyone like that. And I never have.

Bullying in the workplace is horrible. Not only can it affect productivity, it can also have an impact on the employee’s health and well-being, as well as family life.

Bullying can often be seen by some employees as ‘just having a laugh’. We often hear employees say that it was just a joke, nothing was meant by it and the employee being bullied never said to stop. The employee may have not said to stop; this is often because she/he feels too intimidated by the other employee. Even if it was meant as a joke, this doesn’t make it ok.

There may be a number of signals to indicate that something’s not right.

  • Low morale and a lack of motivation can indicate that employees are unhappy.
  • Poor performance is sometimes connected to bullying. Victims may demonstrate either a steady decline or a sudden drop in the quality of their work.
  • Teams with a bullying leader often have high levels of absence or a high turnover of staff. This is because bullying is traumatic and victims can experience high levels of stress.
  • Employees led by an unchallenged bully learn that such behaviour is acceptable in the organisation.

The trick of course, is to protect people before the situation gets this far.

  • Make sure you have a policy which sets out examples of inappropriate behaviour and describes individuals’ responsibilities.
  • Train people so they can understand that some “jokes” just aren’t funny. They have to learn what is and isn’t Ok and to abide by that.
  • Monitor conduct and behaviour and correct minor breaches.
  • Set a good example.
  • Enforce repeated or more serious breaches.

Guidance should be given to employees about what to do if they feel they are being bullied. Employees should be told to report bullying when it happens. When you become aware of bullying, whether it has been witnessed or reported, the matter should be investigated as soon as possible. Depending on the circumstances, the matter may lead to a formal disciplinary. As with any disciplinary the matter should be dealt with by someone who has not been involved in the case. The outcome and any sanction given will depend on the circumstances.

Prevention is better than cure so take action today.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

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