Bullying at work is undesirable not only on ethical grounds, but also on the grounds of its unacceptable costs to the company. Employers should understand that, when bullying is prevalent in the culture of the organisation, the level of competiveness suffers. Indeed, when a bullied employee departs an organisation, they leave with bitter memories and take these negative feelings to their next employer. As a result, the previous employer gains a bad reputation as a hostile workplace and could find recruitment significantly more difficult, which may lead to a skills shortage within the workforce.
So what is bullying and how does it take place?
Essentially, bullying occurs when an employee is exposed to abusive actions repeatedly over time. Workplace bullying can, of course, take many forms, and may include instances of racial and/or sexual harassment. On the whole, however, bullying in workplaces can be viewed as the abuse of power. Bullying at work is, therefore, the repeated health or career endangering mistreatment of one employee by one or more employees.
Direct bullying in the workplace can include:
• engaging in racial slurs and insults
• physical touching
• making threats
• name calling.
Indirect bullying in the workplace can include:
• humiliating in front of colleagues
• manipulating friends and relationships
• despatching hurtful or threatening email
• producing notes
What can companies do to help solve bullying in the workplace?
Bullying is not confined to any one particular type of business. However, the thing that companies with a bullying problem have in common is a culture of loose management control. Indeed, particularly at risk are those companies that have no qualified people in human resources or those that do not operate an open-door management policy.
Companies should have anti-harassment policies in place and aim to engender a culture in which any employee feels secure in blowing the whistle on the bully.
Employers should try not to bring bullies into their company in the first place. They should be aware that they have legal responsibilities for providing a safe working environment. A proactive employer seeking to reduce the incidence of bullying should, therefore, evaluate personality types at the recruitment stage and assess the ability of candidates to communicate in a positive manner.
Companies should ensure that all employees attend an induction seminar with a qualified external trainer. The topics covered in this kind of induction should include training in relation to equal opportunities and anti-harassment policies. Bullying should be specifically mentioned as being considered a matter of gross misconduct within these policies.
Employers should consider introducing external Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs). These can offer counselling services to employees who are victims of harassment, including workplace bullying.
If a complaint of bullying is upheld, the person concerned should be disciplined and then monitored effectively.
About Terry Irwin
Terry Irwin is the founder and CEO of TCii Strategic and Management Consultants. Born and brought up in Wales, he studied Economics and Marketing at university, followed by an MBA.
Before setting up TCii, Terry spent over 20 years in the corporate world with GSK and Henkel, managing consumer goods and services businesses, living in 14 different countries and working in 30 in Europe, North America, Asia and the Russian Federation. He has also served as a UK Director of Carphone Warehouse and as a Non-Executive Director of Holt Lloyd.
Terry has consulted for a wide range of businesses, from multinationals to start-ups and growing organisations. He has a “hands on” approach and stays involved with client projects through to the achievement of agreed results.
His areas of expertise include:
· Business and strategic planning and implementation
· Business turnaround, outsourcing and cost reduction
· Acquisitions, mergers and post-acquisition integration
· International trade and distribution
· Venture capital
· Exit strategy
· Organisational development
· Succession planning
· Board-level executive coaching
· Sourcing key people – both executive and non-executive – for clients.