- Knowledge Centre

Bullying Awareness Training for Managers

Bullying and Harassment In The Workplace

With workplace bullying and harassment scandals becoming an uncomfortably regular fixture in the news, from the Weinstein affair that rocked Hollywood to accusations against prominent politicians both at home and abroad, many organisations are asking what they can do to protect themselves and their employees.

And rightly so. In addition to the clear human cost of bullying, organisations have much to lose – on top of the potential reputational damage, the financial cost can be steep: one study estimates bullying and harassment costs the NHS £2.281bn per year. For many, it is clear that bullying and harassment training is no longer a ‘nice to have’ – it’s an organisational imperative.

What are the costs of workplace bullying and harassment?

Some of the personal costs of bullying and harassment are obvious: reduced emotional wellbeing and the potential for mental health issues are common across all forms of bullying and harassment regardless of the situation in which they take place. However, some are less obvious.

Employees may suffer physical symptoms of ill health, require time off work, and experience increased emotional apathy towards their work when actually undertaking the tasks their job entails. This is where the personal and organisational costs of workplace bullying begin to intertwine – and where the interests of employee and employer align in protecting the wellbeing of workers.

Research has identified that emotionally engaged employees produce approximately 20% more value for their organisation than their colleagues who are neither 'engaged' nor 'disengaged', so the lack of engagement and poor morale caused by workplace bullying and harassment can lead directly to poor performance and thus financial losses. This is in addition to work lost through sickness absence, an increase in employee turnover (over a third of those who have been bullied at work leave their job as a result), and potential legal ramifications if an employee decides to take their issues to court.

What is workplace bullying and harassment?

As bullying has no legal definition, there can be some uncertainty as to what precisely constitutes bullying behaviour. One helpful definition provided by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) defines bullying as ‘unwanted behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended.’

Harassment is more clearly defined, as it is potentially liable to criminal prosecution and thus has a precise legal definition, which is broken down into three categories:

  1. Unwanted conduct (i.e. bullying) based on a protected characteristic as defined by the Equality Act 2010: age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation.

  2. Unwanted conduct of a sexual nature (i.e. sexual harassment).

  3. Less favourable treatment because of one’s reaction to harassment concerning sex or gender reassignment.

In the first two cases, the behaviour must have ‘the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual’ in order to constitute harassment under the law.

How can I recognise bullying in the workplace?

Workplace bullying can come in many different forms, which can sometimes make it hard to recognise. Workplace bullying can happen in person, or online or in written communications between colleagues. It can take the form of one isolated incident, or a pattern of behaviour over a longer period of time. Sometimes bullying has one victim and one perpetrator, and sometimes it is a larger group persecuting a smaller group or individual. While some incidents are easily identified as bullying, others are not. Some less obvious forms of bullying include:

  • Ignoring someone’s views and opinions

  • Undermining a competent worker with constant criticism

  • Setting unmanageable deadlines or workloads

  • Overbearing micromanagement

  • Making threats or unfounded comments about job security

  • Intentionally blocking promotion or training opportunities

Because these situations are not as clear-cut as say, verbal abuse, they can often fall into a grey area where it is not immediately obvious whether an act of bullying has taken place. As ACAS says, ‘behaviour that is considered bullying by one person may be considered firm management by another.’ Unfortunately for those responsible for dealing with workplace bullying, these grey areas can cause the most problems.

Why does bullying and harassment happen?

One reason bullying may arise in a workplace is due to those aforementioned ‘grey areas;’ if there are no clear standards set by the organisation as to what is and is not acceptable behaviour, some members of staff may engage in bullying behaviour without identifying it as such. Even when such standards are set, it is impossible to completely eliminate the possibility of bullying and harassment entirely, as this is often dependent on the individual personalities and prejudices of the people within the workforce. Therefore it is necessary that an organisation has the proper policies in place to deal with incidents quickly and effectively if they should arise – as well as staff trained in how to address these issues correctly.

An important factor to consider is reasons why bullied individuals may not report the incident. This can be down to issues of workplace culture: they may believe reporting a colleague may result in awkwardness between themselves and their co-workers, or that their peers would consider them weak for not quietly putting up with the behaviour. If an employee believes that bullying behaviour is the norm for that organisation, they are unlikely to report it. These issues are only exacerbated if the perpetrator is of higher seniority than their target, as the victim may worry that reporting a senior member of staff may backfire – they may have to continue to work under a manager bitter from having had their behaviour reported. Issues of power and seniority are of particular importance when dealing with workplace bullying and harassment, as research conducted by the Trades Union Congress in 2015 found that in 72% of cases, bullying is carried out by a manager.

What can be done about it?

There are several ways to address bullying and harassment when it occurs, from informal approaches such as having a quiet word with a member of staff to address their behaviour, to formal grievance and disciplinary procedures. When determining the appropriate response to a particular case, keep in mind that the response matches the severity of the issue, so a ‘grey area’ incident in which a member of staff is unaware of the way their managing style is affecting others may require a different approach than a situation of ongoing sexual harassment. Of primary importance is that procedures are followed consistently regardless of the seniority of the accused.

However, the best way to address bullying and harassment is to prevent it – as much as possible – from happening in the first place. Setting clear standards for staff behaviour ensures all employees know what is expected from them, and fair procedures to deal with complaints encourages trust in the organisation’s ability and willingness to handle any situations that may arise. In addition, senior staff and managers have a responsibility to set a good example through their own behaviour, as this is a key factor in determining the culture of a workplace.

Summit Training is passionate in the belief that an organisation does not need to have an existing problem with bullying and harassment to benefit from bullying and harassment training course. Our immersive bullying and harassment awareness courses can help your organisation develop clear and effective grievance and disciplinary procedures alongside providing you with the resources you need to create a healthy workplace culture that prioritises communication, personal responsibility, and awareness of others.

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