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Workplace Bullies

Bullies. For many hearing that word it’s hard not to revert back to their years at school. It seems to be far more common now. When I was at school there was occasional bullying (it happened to one of my brothers, but after consultation with my parents he took clear decisive action and the bullies never troubled him again), but I has no experience of it, despite being the youngest in my year and knee high to a grasshopper.

Children can be really quite foul to each other and you’d hope that as they reach more mature years they would grow out of it. Sadly not. Bullies exist in the workplace. Now that I do have experience of. In one of my employed roles, my manager (the HR Director of one of the divisions of a very large company) started my appraisal by saying “You may not want to sit facing that way. You won’t want people to see you crying.” And he proceeded to tear me apart. Having had a career to that point which was basically described as “all round excellent” it was a shock. Incidentally, during my time there the feedback for training I’d delivered was the best they’d ever had. It was bizarre. I was told later that he did this to everyone and not to take it personally. To this day, I have never forgotten the devastation of being laid into without reason by someone who knew he was abusing his authority and that I didn’t have enough service to complain of constructive unfair dismissal.

Anger got me through it. I swore then I would never ever work for a b*****d like that again and eventually set up my own business. Best thing I ever did, despite the monumental hard work. It’s a fundamental tenet of Russell HR Consulting that we only work with people we like and respect. I can choose who I work with and it means I don’t have to work with despicable people like my former boss for whom I feel utter contempt. So maybe he actually did me a favour.

You might say I should have complained, but there would have been no point. That company knew what he was like and by failing to act or correct him they condoned it. I left without a job to go to, but before I became seriously ill. Fortunately for me, I was still fairly young, I had enough money to pay my mortgage for three months and my partner was supportive. I was prepared to do what it took to get by. I worked hard and I did just fine, though it took me two years to be able to talk about it without breaking down. It was almost 20 years ago now, but I’ve never forgotten how awful it was.

Having to deal with bullies in the workplace is the horrible daily reality for some. Not only is bullying increasing, many people who are the victims of bullying are too afraid to voice it. ACAS reported that in 2015 they had received over 20,000 calls about harassment and bullying at work. Some cases being so severe that callers had admitted that they had thought about committing suicide.

Sir Brendan Barber, the Chair of ACAS released a statement in response to these findings. “The helpline have experienced some horrific incidents around bullying that have included humiliation, ostracism, verbal and physical abuse ……. but managers sometimes dismiss accusations around bullying as simply personality or management-style clashes, whilst others may recognise the problem but lack the confidence or skills to deal with it.”

It is your responsibility to make it clear to your employees and anyone associated with your business such as third party suppliers and customers that bullying will not be tolerated. Bullying can have negative effects on your business such as poor employee relations, loss of productivity, low morale and high turnover due to loss of staff. It’s also just plain revolting.

Set standards of acceptable behaviour, whether that be in form of a policy or as an organisational statement given to all staff detailing acceptable behaviour. This should ensure individuals understand what constitutes bullying and what their responsibilities to others are.

Have a written policy or statement in place setting out good behavioural standards. It is just as essential to create an environment where employees are consulted and issues are discussed. An open environment is less likely to promote bullying than one where there is a dictatorial leadership style present.

When a claim of bullying is made, investigate promptly. Keep an open mind. It is unlikely that employees will make a serious accusation unless they’ve been really provoked, it’s also clear that many employees make an allegation of bullying in response to the start of disciplinary proceedings. Managers do have a right to correct poor performance or misconduct so long as it’s appropriately and courteously done. This is not bullying.

Make a decision to what the next steps will be to resolve this issue. Dealing with matters informally can sometimes be enough to stop the issue escalating further. Sometimes people are oblivious that their behaviour can be reviewed as inappropriate and sometimes it’s just crossed wires.

If the matter is more serious or complaints cannot be sorted informally, explore it formally. If you’re not sure what to do, get help.

We deal with the good, the bad and the ugly of HR. If you need help resolving problems with bullying or any other HR issues, give us a call on 01908 262628.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.