If an employee is being bullied at work, it is likely to be a highly stressful time for them. Naturally, this makes bullying totally unacceptable in the workplace and employers have a duty of care to make their business a safe and fair working environment for all.
However, because bullying can take on many forms, it can sometimes be difficult to identify. This is especially the case if the victim feels they cannot speak up. As an employer, you should look out for certain signs that could signify when bullying is taking place.
Absence and staff turnover
If an employee is often absent, then there may be an underlying reason why they do not want to be at work. Bullying causes stress, which leads to health problems that could cause an employee to be absent. As with any high rate of absence, it should be investigated to get to the cause of why it keeps occurring.
If a certain team within an organisation has a high rate of staff turnover, this should be investigated too. There could be a bully within the team that is making working life unacceptable to other employees, or the problem could lie with the team as a whole.
People under stress are unable to perform as well as usual at work. A sudden dip in the quality or quantity of an employee’s work could signify a problem.
The loss of productivity should be investigated to see if the drop-off occurred at a potentially significant time, such as when the employee moved teams or started working alongside a certain individual.
If you keep hearing negative reports about an individual or team, don’t ignore it. Poor morale or perceived “personality clashes” could be symptoms of bullying, and victims may be unwilling to report it out of fear of reprisals or worry that they won’t be taken seriously.
Employers should promote a culture where complaints are seen to be acted on and investigated fully.
Outline what is unacceptable
As bullying can manifest itself in many different ways, employers should remove any grey areas and outline what is considered unacceptable workplace behaviour. Acas list the following as unacceptable behaviours that should be included in an anti-bullying policy communicated in an Employee Handbook:
Spreading malicious rumours, or insulting someone by word or behaviour
Copying memos that are critical about someone to others who do not need to know
Ridiculing or demeaning someone – picking on them or setting them up to fail
Exclusion or victimisation
Overbearing supervision or other misuse of power or position
Unwelcome sexual advances – touching, standing too close, display of offensive materials, asking for sexual favours, making decisions on the basis of sexual advances being accepted or rejected
Making threats or comments about job security without foundation
Deliberately undermining a competent worker by overloading and constant criticism
Preventing individuals progressing by intentionally blocking promotion or training opportunities