HR BLOG: How to tackle bullying and harassment in the workplace

Bullying can take many forms. Sometimes it’s obvious, bearing the hallmarks of a playground bully. But increasingly in the digital age, bullying and harassment has moved online as well.

Our ‘always-on’ culture means that bullies can operate at all hours. And, now, a screen can provide anonymity.

Bullying can frequently go unnoticed until it’s too late. And whilst many people may picture the playground when reading or hearing about cases of bullying, it’s not just happening amongst schoolchildren.

The scope of bullying in the workplace

A recent report into workplace bullying and harassment by the CIPD found that a quarter of employees feel that their company is sweeping this important issue under the carpet.

The most common form of bullying or harassment, reported to have affected 50% of men and more than half of women surveyed, was the feeling of being undermined or humiliated at work. Followed by persistent and unwarranted criticism or personal remarks from others.

To an untrained manager, this kind of bullying and harassment can be mistakenly shrugged off as workplace banter. They may perceive the complainant as being too “sensitive” or “dramatic” and feel that no further action is necessary. They may even be at the root of the problem themselves, with little understanding of the consequences.

Failing to take further action when an employee reports bullying or harassment can leave a toxic situation to get much worse, causing harm to the employee and wider business.

The risks of ignoring workplace bullying and harassment

More than half of survey respondents who said they had experienced workplace bullying in the past three years said that they did not report it. Is the problem more widespread than suspected?

Employees who suffer in silence could be experiencing poor mental and physical health from prolonged stress. Their work can suffer, and they may be more inclined to take sick days rather than face a problem at work if they feel it won’t be managed well.

Those that do report a problem but do not receive sufficient support from their employer, can start to feel isolated and dread coming to work. They may also have cause for an employment tribunal claim if harassment towards them violates the Equality Act.

Three steps to tackling bullying in business

  1. Like any conflict between co-workers, bullying and harassment should be addressed and dealt with immediately. Having a policy on how your business manages conflict resolution will help. But it is essential that managers receive training in order for your policy to protect employees and your business.
  2. Where possible, seek an informal resolution with both parties. If you need an impartial witness, we can help. If the problem persists or escalates you will need to take formal action as per your disciplinary and grievance procedure. Be sure to keep a record of all meeting notes and agreed outcomes.
  3. More than this, you’ll want to foster and encourage an inclusive and supportive workplace culture that allows employees to be themselves at work. Lead by example and let employees know that mean-spirited behaviour towards others will not be tolerated.

A helping hand from The HR Dept

Approaching the topic or following up on a complaint of bullying or harassment might be uncomfortable and instigate some difficult conversations. But allowing it to continue can create much bigger problems.

Keep your business free of bullying and harassment with our HR advice and guidance. We can help you with training programmes in addition to reactive and proactive techniques to make your business a healthy and happy place to work.