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How to handle bullying in the workplace

We spend most of our time at work. Not everybody loves their job, but we all deserve to feel comfortable and at ease in the workplace. Your working environment should be a supportive one, where everyone can work towards their goals without undue pressure or attention.

There’s a perception that bullying is something that only happens at school, as if you’ll leave education and never meet a bully again. Unfortunately, some people never grow up. Bullying is a problem across ages and environments. It’s by no means restricted to school. In fact, bullying in the workplace is more commonplace than you’d think.

How common is bullying in the workplace?
  • Almost six in 10 people have witnessed or suffered bullying in the workplace
  • 37% have been bullied themselves
  • 68% said the behaviour was ‘subtle’, such as leaving colleagues out
How to spot the signs of bullying

Although there is no legal definition for workplace bullying, HSE explain that it involves negative behaviour targeted at an individual, or individuals, repeatedly and persistently over time. According to the chair of Acas, Sir Brendan Barber, such behaviour is on the rise in the UK.

Bullying in the workplace could be in person, or online. In fact, many bullies suddenly feel a lot braver when they can target people through a computer. But it won’t go unnoticed, nor should online bullies get off scot-free with such damaging behaviour. Bullying could include:

  • Name calling.
  • Ignoring, isolating or excluding.
  • Belittling.
  • Scapegoating.
  • Manipulation of roles.
  • Setting you up to fail.
  • Spreading rumours.
  • Giving you meaningless tasks.
  • Aggressive behaviour.
What to do if you’re being bullied

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has said that every organisation should have a zero-tolerance anti-bullying policy. This belief that no-one should be put in the position where they dread coming to work is widespread, but taking the first steps to tackle bullying can be the most difficult.

The first steps to deal with bullying in the workplace

  1. Get to know your company’s policy. Your employer should have a policy on behaviour in the workplace, including information on bullying. Find out all the details you can, including processes on informing supervisors and the steps you can expect them to take.
  2. Start informally. If you feel safe enough, the best thing you can do is to first talk to the person who is bullying you. In some cases, they might not be aware how their behaviour is affecting you. Talking to them may cause them to reflect on how they’ve treated you.
  3. Make management or HR aware. In many instances, it isn’t possible to confront the perpetrator head on. Instead, you’ve got to make the relevant people aware of what’s going on. Whether it’s management, HR, or your trade union, they’ll be able to take steps on your behalf to resolve the issue.
  4. Keep any evidence. Gathering a record of the date, times, place, details and names of any witnesses of any bullying could prove invaluable if anyone asks you to substantiate your claims. Save any horrible emails, and document the times you’ve been left out of relevant meetings.
  5. Find someone to talk to. Bullying is a stressful thing to go through. You shouldn’t have to experience it alone. Having someone you trust to talk to will help you minimise the impact it has on your life.
  6. Make an official complaint. If you feel like your problem hasn’t been taken seriously by those you informed at work, and the bullying hasn’t stopped, you can seek to make an official complaint via the usual grievance procedures. Your employee handbook will detail this process.
What to do if you’re being bullied by a manager or boss

Unfortunately, it’s common for bullying to come from your superiors. Those who’ve experienced a bad boss in the past will understand how much it can affect your daily life to have someone in charge that lacks respect for others at work.

Just because they’re in charge of you, it doesn’t mean they can get away with bullying. The policy of any good company will include a designated colleague who you can talk through your concerns with, without fear of being punished for side-stepping your manager. You can show them your diary of events and discuss whether the behaviour was acceptable or not and make decisions on where to go next.

What’s more, confidentially is a key part of the complaints process. You should always be treated fairly and sensitively.

What employers can do to prevent bullying

As an employer, you have a responsibility for your employees. Not only is it the right thing to do, but you have a legal duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees – and that includes protection from bullying and harassment. With offensive behaviour affecting workers from the shop floor to the C-Suite, it’s something for bosses to take seriously.

To read our blog post on improving your happiness at work click here

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