How to Address Bullying in the Workplace

How to Address Bullying in the Workplace

How to Address Bullying in the Workplace

The anti-bullying alliance defines bullying as ‘the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. It can happen face to face or online.’

We’ve all met bullies, who are often those overly assertive individuals who think they are always right and become aggressive when challenged.  Frequently a bully can be someone you know, whether it be a so-called friend in school, your boss, or a Coach of a sports team.  As adults, even your own family, neighbours or community leaders may include bullies who take a dislike to the way you behave if it doesn’t conform to their own way of life, beliefs, and value systems. It's important to realise that bullies are often projecting their own inadequacies and insecurities on to others to make themselves feel better; this is often the case with men who are misogynists and narcissists who feel threatened, in particular by confident women. 

In the workplace almost half of reported cases of bullying are regarding the behaviour of a line manager.  In sport bullying can take place in clubs when Coaches pick on certain players or expect too much from their athletes.  Public officials may be caught bullying if they don’t take kindly to being challenged about their lack of adherence to policies, or their inaction, as well as being overly critical and demanding.

Bullying involves intimidating, spiteful, or insulting comments and behaviour  which is often carried out by someone in a position of power, this can include those in the 'caring' professions within healthcare or emergency services.  If these comments and behaviours are not wanted by the recipient, then the individual may feel they are being bullied.  Bullying is similar to harassment and during our Training and Development Programmes on Overcoming Unconscious Bias we differentiate between the behaviours and the protected characteristics which are included in the Equality Act. Workplace bullying may include being ignored, ridiculed, or even physically harmed.  It tends to be more common in traditionally male-dominated sectors, or within some ethic groups and those with disabilities or health problems, or within the LGBTQ community. 

As we’ve seen recently, bullying still exists in the workplace, even despite the increase in home working, remote working, and hybrid working  as workplace bullying can include written messages or even phone calls.  Bullying can not only be upsetting for the individual, but it can also be very detrimental to an organization and may lead to the following:

  • Increase in cases of stress and burnout
  • Rise in sickness absence numbers
  • Drop in levels of employee engagement
  • Loss of productivity
  • Poor morale
  • Higher attrition
  • Employer brand being de-valued
  • Attraction becomes a challenge
  • Legal action and costs of compensation
  • Decrease in financial performance

If you feel you are being bullied, then it’s important to speak to someone who can help, often HR or your company’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).  Once you have confirmation that the unwanted behaviour constitutes bullying and those in authority are dealing with the issue, then the key is to ask yourself: ‘what is driving the other person’s behaviour?’  Chances are it is because they are jealous of you, they want to be like you, or they are unhappy that you are not behaving like them, or they feel superior to you, or have a misplaced sense of entitlement. It may also be due to the fact that they have been bullied themselves, that they want to control you and have spotted a perceived weakness or unique characteristic you have that they don’t like or disapprove of.  Sometimes bullies are projecting their own feelings onto you, and they have low self-esteem.

If you were bullied in school, you will be aware of the significant negative impact it can have on your confidence, well-being, and even your results.  Hopefully you received support and were advised that the best way to tackle bullies is to call them out, report them, and question their motives and actions.  Bullies are often cowards and some ‘hunt in packs’ or hide behind authority figures or their own professional titles when challenged.  In the workplace, you may feel that you will lose your job if you speak out, but increasingly organizations are taking bullying and harassment seriously.

In order to prevent a bullying culture, employers need to have robust and well-communicated policies and procedures.  Leaders need to role model good behaviours and reinforce their organizations competencies, values, and behaviours.  It’s important that line managers are clear on what creates the psychological contract between the company and its employees, and understand their performance management  framework.  Sometimes people managers may lack emotional intelligence and attribute workers complaints to a clash of personalities or simply lack the confidence to confront issues.  Training should be given on having a zero-tolerance policy with clear processes for reporting any cases and procedures for investigation and taking disciplinary action.  Any bullying behaviours need to be addressed very swiftly otherwise they fester and can even result in legal action; interestingly the number of employment law cases has risen dratically over the past two ears with the increas in hybrid working, so be vigilant about any online abuse too.  If in doubt, there are plenty of online resources, for example from ACAS and the CIPD.  And Be Kind!

‘Thanks to your training day we are now much clearer on what constitutes bullying as opposed to harassment and discrimination.  We’re also sharpening up our communication to ensure all line managers know how to behave and what to do if a complaint is made.’  Executive

About Jill Maidment

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