It’s the silent epidemic that’s stalking the UK. It makes people dread going into work. And if you don’t spot it in time, it could ruin your business.

Workplace bullying is easy to miss. As an employer, you’re often too busy to notice if an employee is subtly mistreating another employee.

And to make matters worse, both bully and victim might be good at hiding their respective roles. They might not even realise they’re playing those roles. The bully might think it’s “just a bit of banter” (this phrase is a big red flag), while the victim might think they’re just being oversensitive.

So how do you deal with such a hidden problem? Follow these six steps:

Step 1: Understand what workplace bullying is

Acas defines workplace bullying as “any unwanted behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended.”

Some examples include:

• Constantly criticising a colleague and taking duties and responsibilities away from them without good reason.
• Shouting, aggressive behaviour or threats.
• Putting a colleague down and making them the butt of jokes, in private or in front of others.
• Ignoring, victimising or excluding a colleague.
• Spreading rumours about them.

Step 2: Create an anti-bullying policy

Use the Acas definition as the basis for your policy, so employees know what you consider to be unacceptable behaviour. Emphasise that you won’t tolerate bullying under any circumstances, and outline the consequences if you catch someone bullying another employee.

Step 3: Create a grievance policy

The grievance policy should let your employees know who to tell if they feel someone is bullying them. It’ll help you build trust with your staff. They’ll know you take bullying seriously, and they’ll feel confident they have someone to turn to.

Having a specific point of contact is especially important as employees can be reluctant to report bullying when it’s being carried out by a more senior colleague.

Step 4: Communicate these policies to your staff

It’s a good idea to explain your anti-bullying and grievance policies to new staff members during their company induction. An instructional video is a great way to do this, but if your budget doesn’t allow it then you can include the policies in the company handbook you give all your employees.

Step 5: Cultivate a positive company culture

Because work can be fast-paced and stressful, it can be difficult to get to know people and appreciate them as human beings.

One way to get around this issue is to create a friendly workplace environment. As well as increasing staff morale, it’ll make cases of bullying stand out more.

To foster team spirit, you could organise social events outside of working hours. Some examples are book clubs, fitness classes and the occasional after-work drinks. If you have space, you could even hold these events in your workplace.

Step 6: Stay vigilant

So you’ve created your anti-bullying policy. Good job, but you still have to be on the lookout for signs that an employee is being bullied. Has their mood recently changed for the worse? Are they calling in sick more often? Are they reluctant to work with a particular colleague?

If you ignore workplace bullying, the consequences could be disastrous. If you don’t act, productivity will drop, morale will plummet and staff will leave.

And if an employee can prove to a tribunal that they had no other choice but to resign (also known as constructive dismissal), you could end up paying out as much as £83,682.