Top Ten Tips for... dealing with bullying in the workplace

Top Ten Tips for... dealing with bullying in the workplace

Unfortunately, bullies aren’t just confined to the school playground – they are an unwelcome reality for many adults in the workplace too. If they aren’t dealt with in the right way, the consequences can have a major impact on individuals both physically and mentally. Secondly, gaining a reputation for fostering a bullying culture can also have a negative impact on your business.

Bullies can be embarrassing, frightening and intolerable. So why do we tolerate them?

Here are our Top 10 Tips for stopping bulling in its tracks.

1. Are you being bullied at work?

Identifying the difference between bullying and bad management or sour working relationships is important. Receiving feedback about poor performance is of course upsetting and difficult to deal with but as long as it’s done professionally, it’s unlikely to be considered bullying. Any claims about bullying at work will hopefully be taken seriously so you need to be ready to make the first step in the complaints process.

2. Know the law

Bullying itself is not against the law but employers have a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees. Bullying can directly compromise each of these. Harassment however is against the law and can relate to anything from age, sex, disability, race, religion or sexual discrimination. Harassment can include verbal abuse and threats, unwanted communications, stalking or doing things to frighten someone. If a colleague is being harassed or bullied they can seek advice from their HR department or an external source such as a union, Citizen’s Advice or the police.

3. Inform yourself

If you are the person being bullied, then do your research and find out how your employer deals with employee health and wellbeing or whether they have a specific anti-bullying policy. If you’re an employer, then you need to make it clear what your stance is on bullying and how any incidences will be dealt with. You need to ensure any policies you have are easily available and the advice is clear and concise.

4. Identifying bullying traits

Just like in any walk of life, bullying at work can be carried out in a number of ways. It could come from a manager, a co-worker, someone else from your organisation or even from an external partner. It could come in the form of rudeness or insults, it could include unwarranted professional criticism, personal attacks, threatening behaviour, unwanted sexual advances or being made to do extra work or menial tasks. The list is endless and unfortunately will be unique to the person on the receiving end.

5. Learn to spot the signs in others

Bullying can have a major impact on a person’s life and as business owners we have a moral and professional obligation to look out for the signs to ensure help is provided at the earliest opportunity. There would be far too many signs to list here but someone who is being bulled may appear withdrawn, stressed, anxious or they may be defensive and argumentative. They may find it difficult to concentrate, show a lack of motivation or ability to carry out aspects of their role they previously did with ease. They may just not be their usual selves. Simply asking someone if they are okay may be the first step to finding out if you can help.

6. Stay professional

Dealing with an allegation of bullying, especially in a small organisation where everyone knows whose who, is likely to lead to a lot of anxiety and awkwardness. However you decide to deal with the situation, it’s important to stay rational, professional and calm. Antagonising either party is likely to exasperate the situation further. If you feel you may be biased to either party in a situation like this, then delegate the mediation responsibilities to another colleague. This will ensure you are fair to everyone involved. Remember that some allegations of bullying may be malicious, so don’t jump to conclusions.

7. Encourage your employees to report their concerns

This isn’t about encouraging gossip – it’s about ensuring your colleagues are looking out for each other. If they have each other’s best interests at heart, then reporting any issues may prevent the situation getting much worse. A person who is being bullied may not feel confident enough to raise the issue directly so this is where an open door policy is needed for anyone who has concerns about a co-worker. You need to be approachable and ensure that if reports of this nature are reported, you will take it seriously.

8. Don’t enable bullying behaviour

Confronting someone who is displaying bullying traits can be uncomfortable but it must be done to ensure any issue is addressed quickly and to prevent it spiralling out of control. Consider whether, as an employer or a colleague, you are allowing inappropriate behaviour by not preventing a bully from demeaning a colleague or calling them out on their actions. Do you do anything to counter a bully’s activities or do you just allow it to happen? Being a bystander to bullying is unacceptable and you need to make it clear that it won’t be tolerated.

9. Speak to your colleagues

If you are experiencing bullying at work then it’s likely your colleagues will have noticed too, especially if it’s verbal or done in a public way, such as at the meetings your attend. It’s worth asking if they have witnessed any of the incidents of bullying and whether they will vouch for you when/if you take your complaint further. Remember, bullying at work is a difficult subject to broach, so be discreet. They may have experienced something similar too. Having the opportunity to confront the issue collectively may be the confidence boost you need to take action.

10. Keep a record

One way to take control of any situation in which you feel bullied is to record what’s happening and how it made you feel. It’s as simple as keeping a diary of who said what and when. The frequency and consequences of the bullying you record will prove to be a useful way of explaining your experience and how it has affected you. It will also make it harder for the bully to deny it when confronted.

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