A Guide to Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying is still a large problem for many workplaces in the UK; a situation that is slow to  how change owing to a great deal of misunderstanding about what constitutes as workplace bullying and to deal with it when it is identified.

When we refer to bullying many of us immediately imagine the hard-nosed playground thug who flushes the heads of smaller children down the toilet and steals their lunch money. The reality of workplace bullying is much different. The workplace bully tends to use coercive force to ensure compliance and works to strip their target of power and interfere with their responsibility.

How an organisation deals with bullying will have a massive impact on the general workforce. Inaction will encourage the bully to continue their behaviour; it will leave the target feeling undervalued and send a message to the rest of the workforce that bullying is acceptable. Inaction will also leave an organisation wide open to legal claims made by victims of bullying.

What is workplace bullying?

The power sharing dynamic in any workplace is often strained and greased with compromise; it is the reason why effective communication is so important. Sometimes, however, certain individuals, for whatever reason, will try to circumvent the whole process of negotiation and compromise and will instead seek to remove power from their colleagues and place it with themselves.

The bully will ignore workplace boundaries around their colleague’s role and responsibilities and they will try to limit their behavioural choices in work situations. Through sustained attacks the bully will try to establish this dynamic as a normal way of interacting.

Examples of workplace bullying

The following list is intended to give you an idea of what would constitute workplace bullying:

  • Setting a colleague up to fail – allocating excessive workloads and withholding information that would help them carry out their work more effectively.
  • Being overly critical of a colleague’s work, their personal behaviours, aspirations or standards.
  • Showing hostile behaviour towards their colleague. This is normally verbal and includes things such as making a big issue out of a mistake the person has made, or calling them insulting names either to their face or behind their back.
  • Gossiping – spreading the word of a mistake a colleague has made in order to damage their reputation.
  • Using aggressive and threatening behaviour. This can include adopting an intimidating stance when speaking with the colleague, scowling or simply staring at them, making scornful noises when the colleague speaks, clenching fists and invading personal space.
  • Interfering with the colleague’s work. Examples include hiding their work files, using their computer without permission, hiding personal items and sending insulting or disruptive emails.

This list is in no way exhaustive but it provides a flavour of what actions might constitute as bullying.

The effects of workplace bullying

There are some very common effects experienced by those subjected to bullying in the workplace. Inwardly the victim can lose confidence in their ability to do their job; their motivation subsides; their self-worth is reduced; their stress levels rise; they become distracted from their work and their home life can suffer due to sleeplessness, loss of appetite and becoming uninterested in usual past-times.

Outwardly the victim’s work standards can diminish; they are less organised and less productive. Their credibility in the workplace starts to suffer and they lack the confidence to be creative and contribute ideas when necessary.

All this has a massive impact on the organisation. The real cost in monetary terms is hard to quantify as it reaches into so many other areas for example, how many days taken for sickness are due to a bullied employee not being able to face work? By how much has bullying reduced overall productivity? What about the reduction in quality of service which in turn damages the reputation of the organisation. Bullying also leaves an organisation wide open to legal claims and greatly increases staff turnover. It is not just the victims who are likely to leave; those who witness such behaviour are likely to move on through fear of becoming victims themselves, especially where an organisation has failed to take action.

What action can be taken?

It is important that action is always taken when workplace bullying is discovered or reported. Failing to do so will only encourage the problem to breed and, like a cancer, destroy the organisation from within.

The victim of the bullying must know they have the full support of the organisation. They should be given reassurance about their position and invited to be a part of the solution. It is common to facilitate a meeting between the bully and their victim in which the victim can explain how the bully’s actions have impacted on them.

The bully must be left in no doubt about how inappropriate their behaviour is and that if they persist they will be held accountable.  If the management of an organisation are prepared to take positive action against bullies then it will almost certainly act as a strong deterrent for others. It is important that any course of action taken is done so swiftly; dragging the process out will only dilute the positive impact on those involved.

As with most things it is best to adopt a proactive approach to dealing with bullying in the workplace and here are some things to consider:

  • Ensure there is a strategy to develop strong leadership qualities and relevant knowledge for managers.
  • Produce a simply worded policy setting out the organisation’s anti-bullying stance. Make sure it is distributed and forms part of staff training or briefing.
  • Also, use staff training or briefings to make it clear what behaviours constitute bullying – some people genuinely don’t realise the impact of their actions: “it’s character building!”
  • Train people in specific roles such as HR managers on how to identify and deal with bullying behaviour.
  • Maintain clear records of reported incidents of bullying and use this information for analysis to help identify potential trends or victims. All too often, where the behaviour has been allowed to permeate there will likely be more than one person responsible.
  • Make it clear how to report incidents of bullying. The aim is to make this procedure as simple and as unintimidating as possible for both victims and witnesses.

In summary if you want to help maintain the wellbeing of your workforce, reduce stress levels, lower staff turnover and ensure the highest levels of productivity and efficiency you need to treat the problem of bullying with the seriousness it deserves. At StressCHECK Training we now offer a bullying and harassment module in our self-build course menu. We introduce topics such as: what constitutes workplace bullying, relevant legislation, the organisation’s own policy and tips on how to handle a bully.

For more information please contact us on 0113 816 0145 or use the contact box below.

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