Bullying at Work: Cutting out conflict cuts costs

What steps can you take to become an anti-bullying organisation?

Posted by Lois Petty

Solicitor in the Employment, Pensions and Immigration Team of Weightmans LLP in Liverpool

Fri 20th, Nov

Today marks the close of Anti-Bullying Week, which has brought this pervasive issue back into focus. Occupational bullying costs UK businesses thousands each year in sickness absenteeism, high staff turnover and reduced productivity. So what steps can you take to become an anti-bullying organisation?

Recognise Bullying Behaviour

We know bullying when we see it, but there is no single legal definition. Intimidating behaviour, inter-personal conflict and misuse of managerial power are often involved. The related concept of harassmentis defined, in part, as ‘unwanted conduct’ which ‘has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity’ (Equality Act 2010). To be unlawful, harassment must be linked to a ‘protected characteristic’ such as sex, race or sexual orientation. Often ‘bullying’ is used as an umbrella term for both sets of behaviour. New ACAS Guidance sets out some ‘real-life’ examples.

Obviously there is an element of subjectivity involved. One person’s ‘bullying’ may be another’s ‘strong management’. Also, the factual picture is often complex. Allegations of bullying will often crop up in the context of employee ill-health or poor performance.

Is a policy enough?

A robust bullying and harassment policy with clear routes of redress is a great place to start and makes clear that you take the issue seriously. Including some examples of how bullying might look in your business may help set objective standards and encourage employees to understand what behaviour will be considered unacceptable.

Interestingly though, recent ACAS research suggests that placing the onus solely on individual grievance processes is an insufficient framework for the successful prevention of workplace bullying. It’s crucial to back up policy statements with other preventative action.

What else can we do?

Anti-bullying culture starts from the top down. Train your managers and make sure that they role-model positive behaviour.

Be proactive in identifying problems. As well as tackling formal complaints, seek informal feedback about employee experiences. Ask your leavers why they moved on. Was bullying a factor?

Prioritise timely intervention. Could you offer internal or external mediation to resolve conflict at an early stage? Even the small businesses can put in place some employee support structures such as access to confidential counselling.

Don’t be afraid to instigate disciplinary action against offenders for serious incidences of bullying or where behaviour does not improve.

Tackling bullying makes great business sense. Seek expert legal help to bolster your anti-bullying credentials. 

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