Bullying at work shouldn’t be hidden by ‘playground’ stigma

This is Anti-Bullying Week 2018 (#ABW2018), with a series of events, articles and publications aimed at making the problem of bullying something about which we all know more and are better equipped to stop.

As is inevitable, many websites and much of the Anti-Bullying Week 2018 material focuses on bullying amongst children, particularly in schools.  However, that doesn’t mean we can forget that for many people, bullying is a reality of their day to day working lives.  If you think you’re being bullied, please don’t feel you’re alone.  TUC commissioned research in 2015 found that in the UK almost a third of people experience bullying at work (and another 30% have witnessed it). 

This year’s theme is “Choose Respect” (#ChooseRespect), but bullying behaviours can go far beyond a lack of respect.  Agency Central describe bullying as encompassing:

  • Exclusion
  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Verbal insults
  • Rumour spreading
  • Purposely preventing career advancement
  • Threats in relation to job security
  • Humiliation
  • Being overly critical

These are all aggressive/passive-aggressive actions, but take care also of the “charismatic bully” who may be more difficult to spot:

This type of bully will not rely on physical force to intimidate their targets, but rather will use subtle manipulation to exert their power over others.

In recent months I’ve advised several individual clients, each of whom has experienced bullying at work, on how to tackle the problem.  Although they are based in very different parts of the UK, there are key similarities in their situations:

  • Each knew they weren’t happy with their interaction with their manager;
  • Each has been exposed to 2 or more of the behaviours mentioned above;
  • In spite of this, each failed to recognise that they were being bullied.

With smaller employers, many of the problems have arisen from the lack of management structure, but even companies with great policies in place can face problems.  In 2 of the cases, the employer is large and has excellent Equalities, Bullying & Harassment and/or Dignity at Work polices.  With a bit of guidance on how to pull together and present evidence that their treatment falls outwith those policies, they’ve made real progress towards solving the problem.

Of course, sometimes there’s a deeper problem.  I have advised several employers over the years where inappropriate behaviours have become a part of their managerial culture.  The reasons behind these behaviours are too many and varied to go into here, but this recent article from Psychology Today provides a pretty useful exploration.  And underlying all of this is our ongoing economic and political uncertainty.  In 2015, ACAS stated:

as we look ahead to 2016, one finding in our recent paper especially resonates: the strong correlation between restructuring and organisational change and increased rates of workplace bullying.

Now, unless I’m reading the commentary wrong, uncertainty, restructuring and organisational change aren’t going away any time soon, so there is real merit in taking measures to prevent bullying from taking hold.

At the same time, there is increasing evidence of significant detrimental impact on personal and organisational performance.  Indeed, more research from ACAS estimated the cost of workplace bullying to the UK economy as £18 billion. 

In other words, for business to be successful, and for the economy to grow, this is an issue where increased awareness, and real efforts to curtail bullying, simply aren’t optional.

I’d be interested to know your thoughts on this subject, so please leave a comment, but if you’d like to discuss this topic more directly please contact me at malcolm@strathesk.co.uk or give me a call on 07736068787.

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