Q&A: How to prevent bullying in the workplace

Answered ny Kate Palmer, HR Advice & Consultancy Director

Bullying, or harassment, in the workplace is, sadly, not at all uncommon.

Just take a look at the news; every day we see stories of people taking their employers to tribunal as a result of bullying allegations.

Even institutions like Downing Street, which just weeks ago made headlines when MPs claims they were threatened by party whips, and Imperial College London, where staff passed a no confidence vote in its ‘bullying’ president, are not immune.

What is often viewed as a playground problem can cause real difficulties for employers.

It’s important to know how to tackle the problem in order to comply with your duty of care towards employees – and avoid ending up in tribunal.

Whilst it isn’t possible to bring a claim directly to an employment tribunal on the grounds of bullying, if the behaviour relates to one of the protected characteristics then an employee can make a claim of discrimination under the harassment provisions.

Bear in mind that bullying is not always a visible attack on someone. It can also include preventing another employee’s promotion by blocking their progress, or setting them up to fail by giving unachievable targets.

Here are my five top tips to help prevent bullying in the workplace.

Implement an anti-bullying policy

An anti-bullying policy should give a clear and unambiguous message to all employees that certain types of behaviour will not be tolerated in your workplace. Examples of prohibited behaviour should be given and employees should be made aware that, should incidents occur, they will be dealt with via the company’s disciplinary procedure. The policy should be circulated and signed by all staff.

Provide training to managers

Those with management responsibilities will benefit from training around the major issues of bullying. This should enable them to recognise behaviour that constitutes bullying so that they know what to look out for. They should also be familiar with the effect that bullying can have on an individual and the workplace as a whole, so even if they do not see the bullying happening themselves, they will be able to see who may be being targeted. This is particularly significant because victims of bullying may not always feel comfortable with ‘telling on’ their perpetrators.

Always investigate

If any instances of bullying are brought to your attention, you should ensure that you take the complaint seriously and investigate it promptly, recording your findings. This can usually be done within your grievance and disciplinary procedure. It’s important to always implement these procedures fairly and consistently. Consistency, in particular, is key as this will strengthen your employees’ trust in the process resolving the problem.

Approach the matter sensitively

It should go without saying that employers should be sympathetic to employees whilst investigating any instance of alleged bullying. Be sure to make the employee who is alleging bullying aware that you will act confidentially and sensitively and then make sure you follow this through. Not doing so will undermine the employee and make them fear reprisals, reducing the chance that they would feel confident reporting any future bullying they may encounter.

Be consistent

Finally, it is important to set a consistent standard of disciplinary action with regards to employees who bully others. Look back at previous disciplinary actions that have been taken and apply consistent actions to similar circumstances. Implementing a hard line when it comes to bullying will support your zero tolerance stance, and similar treatment across the board will instil confidence in your employees that bullying is taken seriously by your organisation.

 

It’s never fun to have to deal with allegations of workplace bullying, but following these steps will help drastically reduce the chance of any issues arising in the first place.

 

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