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What managers can do about workplace bullying

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What comes to mind when you think of bullying? For many of us, the idea of a bully is the same. It’s that mean kid on the schoolyard who picked on others for seemingly no reason. But unfortunately, bullying doesn’t always halt at the toss of a graduation cap. Bullying is everywhere, and workplace bullying is a serious issue. In fact, harassment and bullying are real threats in the workplace. According to the results of a study presented at an annual conference of the British Psychological Society, more than one in eight people admit to being bullied at work.

What is workplace bullying?

These reported victims of bullying at work are undeniably experiencing a serious ‘stressor’ in their everyday work lives. In Back Off! Carole Spiers refers to bullying as ‘the misuse of power or position to persistently criticise and condemn; to openly humiliate and undermine an individual’s professional ability until this person becomes so fearful that their confidence crumbles and they lose belief in themselves’.

Who is being bullied in the workplace?

According to Spiers, anyone who is perceived as different, in a minority, or who lacks organisational power, runs the risk of being harassed. Thus health, physical characteristics, personal beliefs and numerous other factors may lead to harassment, and this can occur between people of the same sex or the opposite sex. Harassment may also take many forms. It can range from extreme behaviours such as violence and bullying, to less obvious actions like ignoring someone at work.

Those who lack organisational power are not the only individuals experiencing harassment at work. Almost one-third of board directors surveyed had been subject to some form of bullying either by colleagues or subordinates. Middle managers are the ‘most bullied’ section of British management.Over half of the women surveyed had been subject to bullying, compared to 35% of men.

What can managers do about workplace bullying?

Managers are in a difficult position when it comes to controlling and condemning workplace bullying. On one hand, it is a managers job to ensure all employees feel safe and secure in their workplace environment, but on the other, controlling a bully isn’t as simple as sending the guilty party to a detention or a time-out. Spiers tells us that it is important to have a formal policy and procedures in place to deal with the issue of workplace bullying and harassment. The policy should include a clearly written and user-friendly statement on the organisation’s view of the types of behaviour that may be interpreted as bullying.

Statements contained in the policy need to assure staff that the organisation takes these types of adverse behaviour seriously.

A policy on workplace bullying should:

  • Have commitment from the top, and be jointly drawn up and agreed by management and trade unions
  • Recognise that bullying is a serious offence
  • Recognise that bullying is an organisational issue
  • Apply to everyone throughout the organisation and at all levels
  • Guarantee confidentiality
  • Undertake that anyone complaining of bullying will not be victimised
  • Be implemented as early as possible
Back Off!

For more on workplace bullying and harassment including, questionnaires, laws and dos and don’ts, read Back Off! Confront workplace bullying & harassment now by Carole Spiers.

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