How to manage bullying in the workplace

How to manage bullying in the workplace

Posted by Amanda Furness


A new report , “Managing Conflict in the Modern Workplace” published by the CIPD last month investigated the state of working relationships, having drawn together the views of both employers and employees from surveys and focus groups.

Their findings highlight that not only are bullying and harassment a serious problem in UK workplaces, but also the destructive effect they can have on individuals and organisations.

Encouragingly, the employee survey found that people were willing to speak up if they feel they are being unfairly treated.  However, the report reveals evidence of a “serious perception-reality gap” whereby employers’ and people managers’ confidence to deal with conflict, through a continued reliance on formal processes and procedures, is not matched by those employees on the receiving end of such conflict.

So, what steps could be taken to manage bullying in the workplace more effectively?

To begin with there are certain preventative actions that managers can practice which may avert bullying behaviours within a team. Early intervention can stop issues escalating, saving individuals untold stress and anxiety and the organisation facing increased sickness absence and potential loss of skills and talent.

Be proactive
However it arose, once conflict exists it is not likely to disappear and is more likely to increase and worsen.  So, to hope things were said under pressure or ‘on a bad day’ and will go away is not the way forward.  Being seen to be proactive and handle any issues in a positive way will have many benefits, including to team morale.  In a nutshell – deal with any issues raised by employees promptly, discreetly and seriously.

Be alert and aware
If managers are aware of behaviours that constitute bullying and harassment, they can be more alert to any possible conflict between staff members and potentially tackle issues before they escalate.  By getting to know the personalities within a team, possible conflicts may be anticipated before they have a chance to occur.

Be fair
Again, managers knowing the personalities of their team members, and their preferred way of working, will alert them to behaviour which is out of character.  Encouraging communication could uncover a deeper, underlying reason for an issue or behaviour which is not obvious at face value. Treating everyone the same and not showing favouritism will help to build relationships which are based on mutual trust and respect, lessening any potential resentment between team members.

Be a role model
Always respecting others, maintaining professionalism, encouraging inclusivity and being explicit about what behaviours will not be tolerated, all send out a positive message to the team and increase trust and respect.

Communicate regularly, request and listen to feedback
One-to-one’s provide individuals with a good opportunity to raise any concerns they may have and allow managers to listen to individual perspectives. They are also a good way to measure if any previous issues have been fully resolved, and not placed on a back-burner ready to re-ignite at a later date.

Know when to seek advice and use formal procedures
There may be occasions when it will be necessary to use formal procedures and the team will look to the manager to take formal action with no delay. Knowing when to seek advice from an HR department or specialist is an important judgement call for any manager.

The importance of training to help manage bullying in the workplace
The recent CIPD report highlights that managers feel least confident about the ‘people’ aspects of their role, such as managing conflict and having difficult conversations.  However, only 40% of those surveyed had received people management training.  The findings have instigated a call from the CIPD for organisations to train their managers to be more effective at managing conflict at work.

Training in bullying and harassment can raise awareness of behaviours to look out for, increase understanding of both the terms and legal implications, as well as provide confidence and practice in tackling difficult conversations with those involved.

We have been delivering training for over 20 years to both managers and employees to help organisations increase awareness and manage bullying in the workplace. Feedback comments received following attendance on the courses illustrate their value:

“I found it thought provoking and illuminating. I will make changes to my team management.”
“Will help in everyday work. It will also help me challenge other people’s behaviour.”
“Be more aware of how ‘Banter’ could affect my colleagues and how it could be interpreted.”

In addition to our training courses, we have created a resource page on preventing bullying which includes links to useful articles to help raise awareness of many issues relating to bullying, particularly in the workplace – you can view it here.