Within every workplace there’s inevitably going to me a mix of individuals where different backgrounds, values, opinions and mindsets collide. When conflicts arise, working together can become difficult.
We can’t choose our colleagues, it’s something that we have to deal with on a daily basis. With introverts, extroverts, assertive and sensitive people in the same place, there’s bound to be regular conflicts. Identifying when office ‘banter’ turns into bullying is difficult and one person’s definition of bullying will alter to another’s. Within the workplace, especially larger ones, bullying can be discreet and subtle so is therefore not always easy to detect.
Workplace Bullying: What Is It?
Acas defines workplace bullying as: “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the person being bullied”. It doesn’t happen by accident and those carrying out the bullying are always aware of what they’re doing.
Workplace bullying can appear in many forms and will depend on where you work and the sector in which you work. Some examples of workplace bullying are:
- Blocking promotion
- Making unfounded threats about job security
- Using power to create a sense of threat or discomfort
- Setting up to fail and constant undermining
- Taking credit for somebody else’s work
- Removing responsibility for no good reason
- Constant criticism
- Frequently ignoring or excluding somebody
- Making derogatory comments online
- Deliberately withholding information
- Creating and spreading rumours
- A constant series of putting somebody down, embarrassing them and making fun of them
- Aggressive behaviour
- Physical abuse
A bully often try and make their victims feel as though the problem is their fault. If you feel like you’re being bullied or have noticed workplace bullying happening, report it to the appropriate person(s).
Increasing Amounts Of Bullying In The Workplace
As we get older we often expect bullying to be a thing of the past and left in the playground. However, it’s becoming a workplace epidemic that can happen whatever your status within the company. Back in 2015, studies showed that a third of UK employees had been bullied at work. These studies also showed that women expected to be bullied at work more than men did. People between the ages of 40 – 59 were more commonly bullied in the workplace with 34% being affected. In more positive findings, over half of managers say that they recognise bullying to be a ‘very important’ issue that should be addressed.
Impacts Of Bullying On Health
As well as psychological health issues including; depression, anxiety, tearfulness and low self confidence bullying can hugely impact upon the physical health of individuals. If you’re a manager, or if you feel like you’re being bullied yourself, look out for these signs:
- Headaches, or complaints of if you’re a manager
- High blood pressure
Banter vs Bullying – What’s The Difference?
If somebody makes you feel silly because you’re the butt of their joke once, it doesn’t count as bullying. Maybe somebody misjudged the situation or didn’t intend to make you feel bad. If it’s repeated, deliberate and the result of a power imbalance then you’re leaning more towards bullying.
Where people are friends, have known each other for a period of time and understand each other’s personality types then teasing and mocking can sometimes be part of the make up of your interactions. If you feel comfortable with somebody making jokes then you know that you’re not being bullied. If it’s malicious, done from a place of abusiveness, this is when it constitutes as bullying.
Even if a heated discussion escalates into an aggressive exchange where personalities clash or purely through disagreement on an issue people feel passionate on, it isn’t always a case of bullying. It’s human nature to disagree and to put your point across when you feel it’s needed. If it’s a one-off and stops there, it’s a case of two people conflicting rather than one person victimising another.
As an employer, it’s your legal (and moral) duty to prevent bullying. Under The Health and Safety at Work Act, you must ensure the health, safety and welfare of your employees. Whether it’s on the factory floor or in the boardroom, it’s something that as employers and managers you must take seriously. It’s in your interests to handle bullying properly. The effects for a company can include:
- Potential loss of staff
- Less likelihood of applications to new positions
- A hostile environment
- Loss/lack of respect for superiors
How To Handle Bullying In The Workplace
When somebody feels bullied, whether it’s in the workplace or not, it can be detrimental to their mental health. Their self-esteem will decrease, their morale will alter and you’ll likely notice a dip in their productivity.
If you’re a manager, make sure that your workplace policy for bullying is familiar to everybody. Outline everything that can be done to a) help those being bullied and b) what consequences will be for the bully. As a manager, ensure that you have positive relationships with your team so that they feel comfortable disclosing the situation to you.
An effective policy on behaviour your company accepts should include:
- The plans in place to implement, review and monitor the policy to ensure its quality
- Information on disciplinary procedures
- Procedures for case investigation
- Information on grievance procedures
- Confidentiality agreements
- Roles and responsibilities of individuals
- Steps which the organisation takes to prevent bullying
- A clear statement that bullying and harassment will be treated as a disciplinary matter
- Examples of behaviour which amounts to bullying and is classed as unacceptable
- A clear statement that shows bullying is unacceptable in your workplace and won’t be tolerated
- A commitment from senior management
Where necessary, include timescales for actions.
It’s vital that as employers, managers and employees we work together to create a positive office culture. You can read here on how we suggest creating a long lasting office culture to make everybody feel comfortable and happy at work.