Bullying can take many forms, including verbal abuse, physical aggression, or hostile or offensive actions that create a threatening or intimidating work environment. In this article, we will discuss the importance of addressing workplace bullying, the signs that an employee might be being bullied, and the steps that HR managers can take to address and prevent bullying behaviour.
What is workplace bullying?
Workplace bullying is any repeated, intentional behaviour directed at an employee that is intended to degrade, intimidate, or undermine their performance or ability to work. It can take many forms, including verbal abuse, physical aggression, or hostile or offensive actions that create a threatening or intimidating work environment.
Bullying can involve a single person targeting another individual, or it can involve a group of people ganging up on a target. It can be directed at employees at any level of an organization, from entry-level employees to senior executives.
Workplace bullying can have serious negative consequences for the target, including physical and mental health problems, decreased job satisfaction and productivity, and, in severe cases, job loss. It can also have negative effects on the overall work environment and the morale of other employees.
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Workplace Bullying: The Definitive Guide for HR Professionals
Workplace bullying is any repeated, intentional behavior that degrades, intimidates, or undermines an employee’s work performance or ability to work. Learn more with our definitive Guide for managers.
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Why is it important for HR managers to be aware of workplace bullying?
It is important for HR managers to be aware of workplace bullying because it can have serious consequences for both the target and the organization as a whole. Workplace bullying can lead to physical and mental health problems for the target, as well as decreased job satisfaction and productivity. It can also create a negative work environment that can affect the morale and performance of other employees.
As HR managers, it is their responsibility to create and maintain a positive and healthy work environment for all employees. This includes addressing and preventing bullying behaviour, which can help to create a more productive and positive work environment.
Additionally, HR managers have a legal obligation to ensure that the workplace is free from harassment and discrimination, and workplace bullying can often involve behaviours that fall under these categories. By being aware of bullying behaviour and taking steps to address it, HR managers can help to protect the organization from potential legal issues.
How can you tell if an employee might be being bullied?
There are a few signs that an employee might be being bullied at work:
- Changes in behaviour: The employee may become more withdrawn or anxious, or they may start exhibiting unusual behaviour, such as becoming overly aggressive or confrontational.
- Decreased productivity: The employee may have a sudden decrease in their work quality or productivity, or they may start missing deadlines or taking more time off work.
- Physical symptoms: The employee may exhibit physical symptoms such as changes in appetite, difficulty sleeping, or an increase in sick days.
- Emotional distress: The employee may seem more emotional or upset than usual, or they may express feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness.
- Avoidance: The employee may start avoiding certain people or situations at work, or they may seem to be withdrawing from their normal activities.
It’s important to note that these signs could also be due to other issues or personal problems, so it’s important to approach the situation with sensitivity and to try to get a sense of what might be causing the changes in behaviour.
What should you do if an employee claims they have been bullied by a colleague?
If an employee claims that they have been bullied by a colleague, it is important to take their complaint seriously and to follow the appropriate steps to address the issue. Here are some steps you can take:
- Listen to the employee and show empathy: Allow the employee to speak openly and honestly about their experience without interrupting or minimizing their feelings.
- Record the complaint: Document the employee’s complaint, including the specific details of the alleged bullying behaviour and any witnesses to the behaviour.
- Investigate the complaint: Conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the allegations, including speaking with the employee who made the complaint and any witnesses.
- Determine the outcome: Based on the findings of the investigation, determine whether the allegations of bullying are founded. If the allegations are founded, take appropriate disciplinary action against the perpetrator.
- Follow up with the employee who made the complaint: Check in with the employee to see if the bullying behaviour has stopped and to provide any necessary support or resources.
It is important to handle the situation promptly and with care, as workplace bullying can have serious negative consequences for the employee and the organization as a whole.
Should the alleged bully be sent home or disciplined?
The appropriate course of action will depend on the specific circumstances and the findings of the investigation. If the allegations of bullying are found to be founded, disciplinary action may be necessary to address the behaviour and protect the employee who was targeted.
The appropriate disciplinary action will depend on the severity of the bullying behaviour and the policies and procedures in place at the organization. In some cases, it may be appropriate to suspend the alleged bully while the investigation is ongoing. However, it is important to follow due process and to ensure that the alleged bully is given an opportunity to respond to the allegations and to present their side of the story.
Ultimately, the goal should be to address the behaviour and to prevent it from occurring again in the future. This may involve providing additional training or support to the alleged bully, or taking more severe disciplinary action, such as termination, if the behaviour is particularly serious or persistent.
Is bullying a legitimate reason to sack someone?
Bullying is generally considered to be inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour in the workplace, and it may be grounds for disciplinary action, including termination of employment.
The appropriate disciplinary action will depend on the severity and frequency of the bullying behaviour and the policies and procedures in place at the organization. In general, more serious or persistent bullying behaviour may warrant more severe disciplinary action, such as termination.
It is important for organizations to have clear policies and procedures in place to address bullying behaviour and to take appropriate disciplinary action when necessary to protect employees and maintain a healthy and respectful work environment.
How should an organisation help someone who claims to have been bullied?
If an employee claims that they have been bullied, it is important for the organization to take their complaint seriously and to provide appropriate support. Here are some steps that an organization can take to help someone who claims to have been bullied:
- Provide a safe and supportive environment: This may involve making adjustments to the employee’s work environment, such as changing their work location or providing additional support or resources.
- Offer counseling or other support services: Consider providing the employee with access to counseling or other support services to help them cope with the experience and to address any related mental health issues.
- Provide ongoing support: Check in with the employee on a regular basis to ensure that the bullying behaviour has stopped and to provide any additional support or resources that may be needed.
- Review and update policies and procedures: Consider reviewing and updating the organization’s policies and procedures to ensure that they effectively address bullying behaviour and provide clear guidance on how to report and address such behaviour.
- Provide training and education: Provide training and education to employees on topics such as workplace bullying, harassment, and discrimination, to help prevent such behaviours from occurring in the future.
By providing appropriate support and resources, organizations can help employees who have been affected by bullying to cope with the experience and to continue to perform their job effectively.
Are there any laws or regulations in the UK relating to workplace bullying?
In the United Kingdom, workplace bullying is not a specific crime or offense. However, certain types of bullying behaviour may be considered harassment under the Equality Act 2010, which prohibits harassment and discrimination on the grounds of characteristics such as age, disability, gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation.
Under the Equality Act, it is unlawful for an employer to subject an employee to harassment that is related to a protected characteristic. This includes both physical and non-physical behaviour, and can occur between employees or between an employee and a third party, such as a client or customer.
In addition to the Equality Act, other laws and regulations in the UK may also be relevant in cases of workplace bullying. For example, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 requires employers to take reasonable steps to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their employees, and this can include protecting employees from bullying and other forms of workplace stress.
It is important for employers in the UK to be aware of their legal obligations and to take steps to prevent and address bullying and other inappropriate behaviour in the workplace.
What sort or employee is most likely to be bullied? Older or younger? Male or female? Newer employees or more established ones? Are there any statistics?
There is no one specific type of employee who is more likely to be bullied at work. Bullying can happen to anyone, regardless of their age, gender, or length of service. However, research has shown that certain factors may make some employees more vulnerable to bullying, including:
- Being new to the organization: Employees who are new to an organization may be more vulnerable to bullying, as they may be less familiar with the culture and norms of the workplace.
- Being in a lower position of power: Employees who are in a lower position of power, such as entry-level employees or those who are not in a managerial role, may be more vulnerable to bullying by those who have more power or authority.
- Being part of a minority group: Employees who are part of a minority group, such as those who are LGBTQ+, disabled, or from an ethnic minority, may be more vulnerable to bullying due to prejudice or discrimination.
It is difficult to quantify the prevalence of workplace bullying, as it can be difficult to identify and measure. However, research suggests that bullying is a common problem in the workplace, with estimates ranging from 20% to 35% of employees experiencing bullying at some point in their careers.
Are there any factors involved in workplace bullying that we have not discussed yet?
There are many factors that can contribute to the occurrence of workplace bullying. Some additional factors that may be involved include:
- Power imbalances: Workplace bullying is often characterized by a power imbalance, with the bully having more power or authority over the target.
- Culture and norms: The culture and norms of an organization can play a role in the occurrence of bullying, as certain behaviours may be more or less tolerated depending on the values and expectations of the organization.
- Organizational structure: The structure of an organization, including the level of hierarchy and the degree of centralization or decentralization, can impact the likelihood of bullying occurring.
- Leadership style: The leadership style of managers and supervisors can also play a role in the occurrence of bullying, as those who are authoritarian or who model aggressive behaviour may be more likely to create a culture of bullying.
- Personal characteristics: The personal characteristics of the bully and the target can also be relevant, as certain personality traits or behaviours may make someone more or less likely to be involved in bullying.
Can you provide a model policy for an employee handbook that deals with workplace bullying?
Here is an example of a model policy that an organization could include in an employee handbook to address workplace bullying:
Workplace Bullying Policy
The purpose of this policy is to ensure that all employees have a safe and respectful work environment free from bullying, harassment, and discrimination.
This policy applies to all employees, including full-time, part-time, temporary, and contract workers. It also applies to behaviour that occurs in the workplace, at company-sponsored events, or in any other situation related to work.
The company prohibits bullying, harassment, and discrimination of any kind. This includes, but is not limited to, verbal, physical, or written abuse or threats, intimidation, ridicule, belittling, or exclusion.
Bullying, harassment, and discrimination will not be tolerated under any circumstances. Any employee who engages in such behaviour will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.
- Employees who believe they have been subjected to bullying, harassment, or discrimination should report the behaviour to their supervisor, HR, or the company’s designated point of contact.
- All reports of bullying, harassment, or discrimination will be treated with the utmost confidentiality and will be promptly investigated.
- The company will take appropriate disciplinary action against any employee found to have engaged in bullying, harassment, or discrimination, in accordance with the company’s policies and procedures.
- Employees who report bullying, harassment, or discrimination, or who cooperate in an investigation, will not be retaliated against in any way.
- Employees who engage in bullying, harassment, or discrimination will be required to participate in appropriate training or counseling to address the behaviour.
This is just one example of a workplace bullying policy, and organizations may choose to tailor their policy to fit the specific needs and culture of their organization. It is important for the policy to be clear, concise, and easy for employees to understand, and to provide clear guidance on how to report and address bullying behaviour.
What resources can you suggest for UK HR managers wanting to learn more about workplace bullying?
There are a number of resources available for HR managers in the UK who want to learn more about workplace bullying, including:
- ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service): ACAS is a UK government agency that provides advice and guidance on workplace issues, including bullying and harassment. They have a variety of resources available on their website, including guidance on how to prevent and address bullying in the workplace.
- CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development): The CIPD is a professional body for HR and people development, and they have a number of resources available on their website on topics such as workplace bullying, harassment, and discrimination.
- TUC (Trades Union Congress): The TUC is a federation of trade unions in the UK, and they have a number of resources available on their website on issues related to workplace bullying, including guidance on how to prevent and address bullying and how to support employees who have been affected by bullying.
- The Equality and Human Rights Commission: The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a UK government agency that promotes and protects the rights of individuals and promotes equality. They have a number of resources available on their website on issues such as bullying, harassment, and discrimination in the workplace.
These are just a few examples of the resources that are available to HR managers in the UK who want to learn more about workplace bullying. It is also a good idea to consult with legal counsel or other experts as needed to ensure that the organization is in compliance with relevant laws and regulations.
Workplace bullying is a serious issue that can have negative consequences for both the target and the organization as a whole.
It is important for HR managers to be aware of bullying behaviour and to take steps to address and prevent it. This may involve providing support to employees who have been affected by bullying, conducting thorough and impartial investigations, and taking appropriate disciplinary action against those who engage in bullying behaviour.
By creating a safe and respectful work environment, HR managers can help to protect employees from bullying and to create a more productive and positive work environment.
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