In light of anti-bullying week, which took place between 12th – 16th October, and the recent allegations of bullying levelled at one of Britain’s most notable businessmen, it is a good time for employers to reflect on ways to reduce and prevent bullying in their own organisation.
The first step to preventing bullying would be to create a substantial and appropriate anti-bullying policy. This should be used to outline an organisations’ stance on bullying, including a non-exhaustive list of the various forms bullying can take, such as verbal, written, physical or online. This will act as a useful reference point for employees who may be subjected to, or witness, workplace bullying and provide employers with the necessary framework to discipline offenders.
With this being said, simply having a policy in place will not be enough. Employers should also train staff on the dangers of bullying, avoiding instances where people may be participating in this unknowingly by having workplace ‘banter’. Such training exercises are particularly useful when new starters join the business to ensure they do not bring any bad habits across from their previous workplace. Part of Acas’ definition of bullying specifically mentions an ‘abuse or misuse of power’, therefore it is also an idea to train senior staff on soft-skills and management style to avoid these scenarios from occurring.
To avoid fostering a culture of bullying, employers will need to have a reliable reporting method which encourages individuals to come forward. It is important that staff are aware of who to report incidents to and this information should be made available to them at the beginning of their employment. Line managers in particular should be encouraged to look out for any indications of bullying and all alleged incidents should be treated in a timely manner, as any delay could put the employee at further risk of mistreatment.
It is important that all bullying concerns are treated fairly regardless of who they involve. Unfortunately, there can be a tendency to dismiss or overlook reports of bullying aimed at senior employees or managers, however employers should avoid protecting any individuals that are guilty of misconduct. A full investigation should be carried out into any alleged incident, making sure to interview any available witnesses and take the feelings of the employee into account.
Ultimately if employers find that bullying has taken place within their organisation they need to discipline staff accordingly, in line with their workplace policies. Failing to discipline staff will send the wrong message to the wider workforce and encourage bullying to continue. Depending on the extent of the bullying appropriate sanctions can range from informal warnings to summary dismissals, and employers should take the full situation into account and make a fair and consistent decision.
A culture of workplace bullying can be incredibly damaging for an organisation and those who allow this to continue face significant risks when it comes to employee retention and potential tribunal claims, particularly if bullying can be attributed to a protected characteristic. However, employers who follow the correct steps should be able to keep on top of bullying in their organisation, enabling them to act fast and discipline staff who behave inappropriately.