On the rise: bullying in the workplace

image of a tall person towering over and bullying a colleagueWhen asked to picture a bully, the first image that may come to your mind would probably be a school child; calling other kids names, forcing classmates to do their homework for them or creating a toll booth to make other students pay to use the toilet.

It may come as a surprise then to hear that in a study by ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service)  that bullying in the workplace is on the rise in the UK, proving that bullying does not end in the playground. From name calling and even physical attacks, for thousands of adults, life in the workplace is a miserable experience because of bullying.

In the adult world, workplace bullying can be just as nasty and upsetting as bullying at school. It may not take the form of having your lunch money nicked or given Chinese burns but it can involve behaviour such as:

  • Spreading malicious rumours
  • Unfair treatment
  • Personal insults
  • Constant criticism
  • Blocking training and promotion opportunities
  • Always being given so much to do, you fail in your work
  • Regularly being threatened with the sack

Bullying is not only face-to-face, it can also be in writing, over the phone or by email.

Over the last year ACAS said they have received over 20,000 calls about harassment and bullying at work with some callers to its helpline have even considered committing suicide.

The chair of ACAS, Sir Brendan Barber, said:

"Callers to our helpline have experienced some horrific incidents around bullying that have included humiliation, ostracism, verbal and physical abuse," he said.

"But managers sometimes dismiss accusations around bullying as simply personality or management-style clashes, whilst others may recognise the problem but lack the confidence or skills to deal with it."

"Businesses should be taking workplace bullying very seriously as the annual economic impact of bullying-related absences, staff turnover and lost productivity is estimated to be almost £18 billion."

Calls to the ACAS helpline around bullying revealed:

  • There are more incidences of bullying within certain groups such as public sector minority ethnic workers; women in traditionally male-dominated occupations; workers with disabilities or long-term health problems; lesbian, gay and bisexual and transgender people; and workers in health care
  • Barriers to people making complaints such as the fear that trying to do something about unwanted behaviour might make the situation worse
  • Ill-treatment from other staff often built up to the point where people dreaded going to work, their family and home life had been affected and many took leave to escape the workplace
  • Inexperienced employers can feel they lack the skills to go through the complex grievance and disciplinary procedures that bullying allegations may involve
  • Managers alerted to bullying allegations can favour simply moving staff around rather than investigating and dealing with underlying behaviours

Stamp out bullying in the workplace with an Anti-Bullying Workplace Policy

This week (16-20th November) is Anti-Bullying Week – a campaign designed to raise awareness to stamp out bullying in both schools and workplaces. Why not get involved by educating your staff and thinking about your own anti-bullying policies?

Employers have a duty of care for their employees, as well as a moral responsibility for maintaining bully-free organisations. It is up to the employer to provide an open and supportive workplace environment in which employees know what to do and who to turn to should problems arise.

Make sure that your business is a bully free zone by:

  • Make it clear that bulling in all forms will not be tolerated
  • Make staff aware of examples of unacceptable behaviour
  • Clarify that all staff are expected to respect the right of each individual and will be treated equally and respected for their diversity
  • Educate staff in your company values often, whether it is communicated verbally or via email and include staff welfare as a high priority. If you create a positive working environment like this, staff will be aware that they need to watch out for one another
  • Make sure your managers that staff need to talk to are aware of the importance of these issues and are approachable as they need to be on the front line to provide help. If a staff member needs to speak to them about a bullying issue they need to know it won’t be pushed under the carpet or ignored. Problems can remain hidden if employees don’t have the confidence in an organisations discipline & grievance policies. Victims may fear retribution - if they make a complaint, and colleagues are sometimes slow to come forward as witnesses in case the bully rounds on them too
  • Although team building exercises are a great idea to get you staff out and about and learning about working together outside the workplace you could also try individual training through E-learning. Our Equality and Diversity course covers helps to give your staff an understanding of what equality means and how they should interact with colleagues, customers or members of the public

Want further information?

You can find out more about Anti Bullying week 2015 here.

ACAS has published advice and guidance on how to deal with Bullying & harassment in the workplace & a guide for managers and employers.

The study: Seeking better solutions: tackling bullying and ill-treatment in Britain’s workplaces was released Monday 16th November contains the latest research in to workplace bullying in Britain.