Bullying is unacceptable in any situation. We all know this, yet so many people continue to be subjected to this harmful behaviour everyday. What can employers do to better monitor and prevent such abuse in the workplace?
Reports of bullying in the workplace are currently dominating the media, with the accusations affecting every employment sector from Hollywood to Parliament.
In fact, just recently shockwaves were sent across the UK when it was revealed that a helpline had been set up to help tackle bullying and harassment in chemistry.
The number of people falling victim to bullying in science professions largely fell upon women. But in the workplace as a whole, bullying is commonplace and affects all genders, races and ages, making it a very serious issue in the UK.
Taking responsibility for the prevention of bullying
Almost a third of Britain’s workforce have admitted to experiencing some form of workplace bullying during their careers, with more than one in three of those leaving their job because of the issue.
It is important, therefore, that employers take the appropriate action to create an open culture within the workplace, where staff can feel comfortable and safe.
Under the Equality Act 2010, businesses and organisations in the UK are legally required not to discriminate against employees or potential employees based on race, gender, age or disability.
It is important to note that employers are responsible for preventing bullying and any form of harassment in the workplace and are, therefore, liable for any bullying suffered by an employee(s).
By creating a clear Code of Conduct for employees to adhere to from the outset, an environment of respect and open communication is developed and nurtured. It will also help to create a sense of camaraderie between employees, meaning that if an employee was to exhibit unacceptable behaviour, more people are likely to speak out against it.
These policies and the organisation’s Code of Conduct should be introduced to employees at the induction stage and reiterated throughout the term of employment.
Managers and leaders should be well equipped to not only identify such behaviour, but also handle any possible complaints.
Creating a safe, welcoming culture
As with any workplace culture, it is important that the principles start from within. Establishing a strong corporate vision which encompasses internal values and staff engagement, as well as external ones, will help to create a culture to which everyone is attuned.
Communication should be a key component of an effective culture. Employees should feel able to freely open up and discuss any issues they may have within the workplace, no matter how serious in nature.
There should be zero tolerance of bad behaviour within an organisation and this should create a whistle-blowing policy, where all employees feel able to report such behaviour whether they have experienced it or witnessed it.
Not only should employees feel free and comfortable to talk about such instances, it should also be clear to them who they should be talking to. By opening clear communication channels for complaints, employees will feel they can share anything they believe is unprofessional.
Are your managers able to identify and deal with bullying?
It is also important to develop procedures to deal with unacceptable behaviour. Managers and leaders should be well equipped to not only identify such behaviour, but also handle any possible complaints.
Line managers are usually the first port of call for many employees, so they should feel capable of dealing with complaints and confident in the next steps.
If they need to seek advice, they should know who this is with. Many companies have in-house HR departments, but if they do not, they must make sure employees know where to pursue such advice.
You don’t want to create a culture of fear, but employees should know that there are consequences for bad behaviour.
As previously discussed, it’s important that managers, like staff, know the correct procedures in dealing with bad behaviour and a resulting complaint.
It can be tempting to rush through procedures and skip steps in an attempt to get a quick, and desired result, but it is important to do things correctly.
Not only will this reassure the employee that their manager is taking their complaint seriously, but as already mentioned, it is the employer who is responsible for preventing bullying in the workplace and so it is the employer who should be seen to uphold those values and procedures.
As with the procedures for reporting incidents, discipline procedures should also be well documented and upheld. Brushing off incidents could be seen to condone them, which will do little to prevent bad behaviour.
Ensure incidents are dealt with appropriately – you don’t want to create a culture of fear, but employees should know that there are consequences for bad behaviour.
It’s time to put a stop to workplace bullying
While a lot of the reports currently in the media have come as a shock, creating a culture that focuses on eliminating inappropriate behaviour from the outset will ensure staff are aware of what constitutes acceptable behaviour and will be unified in working together to eliminate it.
About Kirsten Cluer
Kirsten Cluer is the HR Consultant and owner of Cluer HR. She has more than 15 years of experience in the field and has Fellow membership of the CIPD.