How to tackle workplace bullying

Bullies in a place of work can make a person’s life extremely difficult, no matter what stage of their career they are at. Here’s guidance on how to handle this situation 
by Bethan Rees

Bullying doesn’t have a legal definition, but the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), a non-departmental public body of the UK government, describes it as “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient”. 

The scope of bullying in the workplace is broad and can take on many different forms. This could be constant criticism, making threats, blocking you from a promotion, exclusion from meetings or social activities, physical violence, spreading rumours – this list goes on. 

The NHS says that “bullying can make working life miserable” and “you lose all faith in yourself, you can feel ill and depressed”. So, it’s important for both employees and employers to have a vested interest in keeping bullying out of the workplace, particularly as regards its impact on mental health and well being.

Here’s some things to remember when trying to tackle workplace bullying.
Is bullying at work illegal? Although there’s no legal implications of bullying per se, harassment is covered under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which looks at the welfare of employees, and the concept is defined in the Equality Act 2010 and this means you can take action in the civil courts. 

Harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act if it’s because of or connected to one of the following:
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
You should find out what, or if, your employer has a policy on bullying too, and what the grievance procedure is. 
What should you do first if you feel you’re being bullied? Philip Landau is an employment law solicitor at Landau Law Solicitors and wrote an article on workplace bullying for The Guardian outlining your legal rights. He suggests firstly considering whether your situation can be resolved informally – be that through your line manager, an HR person, trade union official or confronting the person who is bullying you. “If the matter cannot be resolved informally, you may wish to escalate matters and lodge a formal grievance, following which your employer should investigate the matter and hold a meeting,” Landau writes. He also advises that you keep a diary of events, and evidence of emails and communication that demonstrates the harassment or bullying.
Facing the issue head onChartered psychologist Aryanne Oade, who specialises in enabling recovery from workplace bullying and in bully-proofing skill, is quoted in a blog for employment website Jobsite. She advises that if you feel as if you’re being bullied, you should try and do something about it when the attack happens. 

“Recognise that the optimal time to protect oneself is at the moment of attack – not afterwards,” she says. “Put the spotlight back on the bully, if you can. It requires them to give account for the bullying remarks they have just used and makes it clear that you know how to handle yourself, even under pressure.”

If you have the confidence to, try and speak to the person in question in private, in a calm manner. Mental health charity Mind recommends avoiding arguments. It suggests “getting your point across in a diplomatic way can avoid unhelpful disagreements. You may find it helpful to use phrases such as, 'I appreciate your point of view, but I don't see it that way’.”

One approach to deal with the bully is outlined in an article for The Balance by Susan Heathfield, a management and organisation development consultant who specialises in human resources issues. “Describe the behaviour you see the bully exhibiting,” Heathfield writes – so make sure you have evidence to back up your claims such as specific examples of what has insulted or upset you in their language, action or physical behaviour. “Tell the bully exactly how this behaviour is having an impact in your work”, she adds, and “tell the bully what behaviour you will not put up with in the future”. 
Managers to address workplace bullyingIf a manager or employer can speak up about a zero tolerance policy of bullying and also that they operate an open door policy, employees may feel safe to speak out about how they’re being treated by other members of staff. Those in charge should make it clear that raising a grievance will not affect any employee’s prospects. 

An article by Carole Spiers, a CEO of a stress management and wellbeing consultancy, for Business Matters magazine, explains that there should be a “robust formal policy and procedure” to deal with bullying. “This will positively indicate that the organisation takes the issue seriously, and provide a mechanism for dealing with complaints, both informally and formally. This is a particularly important point should a case of intimidation or harassment against the company or organisation be brought before the courts or an industrial tribunal,” she reports. 

She also adds that firms should pick up on this topic in exit interviews, with the question of “have you ever been bullied at work?”. This is because some employees are unwilling to take formal action and this could be a contributing factor in high exit rates, so firms should be aware. 

Bullying in the workplace is completely unacceptable and the person feeling bullied should feel fully supported by their organisation if this does happen. Take these steps to start addressing the problem.
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Published: 20 Dec 2018
  • Career Development
  • The Review
  • Career advice
  • Bullying
  • advice

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