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HomeHuman ResourcesManaging PeopleWorkplace bullying: How to identify it and prevent it

Workplace bullying: How to identify it and prevent it

Workplace bullying

We spend most of our waking hours at work. And while not everyone will feel passionate about their job, everyone has a right to feel comfortable and secure in their workplace.

The workplace environment should promote empathy and encourage teamwork. It should be a space where everybody feels supported to work towards their goals without unwarranted pressure.

Unfortunately, as the ongoing investigation surrounding the now ex-Deputy PM Dominic Raab has highlighted. Bullying isn’t just restricted to the school playground. It can affect anybody at any time in their lives.

In this post, we’ll explore how to recognise bullying in the workplace. And how you can tackle it either as a victim or a witness to it. We’ll also take a look at what you can do to help prevent bullying in your workplace as an employer. Read on to find out more.

What is bullying?

Statistics indicate that workplace bullying is much more prevalent than you may first think. In fact, one study from YouGov has suggested that as much as one-third of UK employees have experienced bullying during work.

So, what exactly is workplace bullying and how might it present itself?

Workplace bullying is defined as repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards an individual or group. Which can cause physical or psychological harm, and creates a hostile work environment.

It is important to note that workplace bullying often involves a power imbalance. This is where the bully uses their influence to intimidate or harass the victim and it is different from isolated incidents of conflict or criticism.

Workplace bullying can happen to anyone, regardless of their role or seniority; be it between colleagues, a manager and an employee, or between a group of employees and an individual.

It can also take various forms, including verbal, physical, social, or psychological abuse. Some typical examples of workplace bullying include:

  • Verbal bullying: Name-calling or derogatory comments that belittle or intimidate someone.
  • Physical bullying: Threatening or intimidating physical behaviour such as pushing, shoving, or throwing objects.
  • Social exclusion: Deliberately leaving someone out of work-related activities, conversations, events or team meetings.
  • Humiliation: Publicly embarrassing somebody in person, or online, through email or other communication channels.
  • Discrimination: Unfair treatment targeted towards someone because of their race, gender, age, religion or personal characteristics.
  • Sexual harassment: Unwanted sexual advances, derogatory comments, or requests for sexual favours.
  • Micromanagement: Excessively controlling and monitoring an individual’s workload, such as checking in on them too frequently, setting unrealistic deadlines or taking over their tasks without warning.
  • Cyberbullying: Using social media and other online channels to harass, intimidate or threaten an employee.
  • Gaslighting: Manipulating another individual into doubting their own thoughts, perceptions, and memories, causing them to question their sense of reality.

5 steps to tackle bullying in the workplace

If you feel you are experiencing bullying at work or if you have witnessed someone else being bullied in the workplace – there are a series of steps you can take to help combat it.

1. Document the behaviour

Keep a record of the incidents of bullying, including the date, time, location, and what was said or done. This can be helpful later on if you decide to make a formal complaint.

2. Speak to the bully

In some cases, it may be viable to talk to the bully directly, if you feel safe and comfortable doing so. Let them know how their behaviour is making you or someone else feel, that it is unacceptable and that you expect it to stop.

3. Talk to a manager or colleague you trust

If you don’t feel comfortable confronting the bully directly, or if the behaviour continues after you have spoken to them, turn to a trusted colleague or manager. They should hopefully be able to offer support and guidance and help you develop a plan of action.

4. File a formal complaint

If the behaviour continues even after reaching out to someone you trust, you should consider filing a formal complaint with HR or your company’s grievance procedure. This is where it is helpful for you to refer to your documented records of bullying.

5. Seek support

Bullying can be emotionally draining and can take a toll on your mental health. It’s therefore incredibly important to reach out for support. Talking to just one person can make a world of difference to how you are feeling. Turn to someone you trust such as a close friend or family member, or seek advice from a medical professional such as a therapist or counsellor, who can listen and offer transformational techniques to help you cope with the impact of bullying.

Charities such as Samaritans, Mind and Citizen’s Advice can also help offer free advice and point you in the right direction for any support you may need.

What can employers do to prevent workplace bullying?

As an employer, it is your legal responsibility to protect your team and create a positive workplace environment, where every employee feels safe and valued, regardless of their role, experience or personal identity.

This covers:

  • Employees and workers
  • Contractors and self-employed people
  • Job applicants

Here are some key actions you can implement from day one to help create a secure workplace free of bullying:

Establish clear policies

Develop and communicate a strong anti-bullying policy, that clearly outlines unacceptable behaviours and consequences for violating the policy. Make sure all employees are aware of the policy, and receive the necessary training on how to identify and report bullying.

Lead by example

Model respectful behaviour and create a culture of respect in the workplace which encourages open communication. Let employees know your door is always open and listen to concerns. It’s important to act on any issues if they do arise and take the appropriate action to address and resolve problems as quickly as possible.

Address complaints promptly

Take all complaints of bullying seriously and investigate them promptly. Ensure that all complaints are handled confidentially and with sensitivity.

Offer support

If an employee does experience bullying, it’s essential to provide adequate support. This may include access to counselling or other useful resources and helplines. Make sure to follow up to see how the employee is progressing, and if they could benefit from any further support.

Taking legal action

Hopefully, by following the above steps and establishing a secure work environment from the offset, there won’t ever be a need for legal action.

However, in some cases where bullying has not been resolved, even following a formal complaints procedure, an employee has the right to take legal action. This might include:

  • Employment Tribunal: Tribunals are independent judicial bodies with responsibility for workplace justice. A tribunal will listen to the victim and the person or employer that the claim is made against, before making a decision.
  • Civil court: Civil courts can handle cases involving issues such as breach of contract or personal injury as a result of workplace bullying, and provide a legal remedy or compensation to the aggrieved party.
  • Criminal charges: Some incidents of workplace bullying may be classed as criminal offences, such as harassment or assault. This could involve the Police, and charges may be brought against the perpetrator.

Bullying in the workplace is unacceptable, and it’s a matter that employers need to take seriously. By taking the appropriate steps to prevent it, the workplace can remain a positive and supportive environment for everyone.

Whether you are an employee or an employer, we hope you’ve found this post useful.

For more insights and business-related advice to help your work environment thrive, visit Rapid Formations’ blog today.

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