- November 15, 2018
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29% of people interviewed in a survey said that they had been victims of bullying (YouGov) – ie nearly 3 in every 10 people. As a number that adds up to 9m people – larger than the combined populations of Scotland and Wales.
60% of people admitted to either being bullied or witnessing others being bullied in the workplace (Unison).
And the true figures are likely to be more and on the rise.
What does bullying at the workplace look like?
We’ve seen it in the playground and sometimes even by parents at the school gates. At work, they can come in different forms and I will list some below. It is important to remember that this abuse can come in the form of physical and more likely at work, mental & emotional anguish. Its effects can be devastating.
Loosely put, bullying is considered a persistent and intentional series of actions that work to break down the self-esteem of an individual. While this might traditionally happen face-to-face, the increasing accessibility to technology means that modern day communication channels can also be used to domineer colleagues.
Types of workplace bullying include:
- Unwelcome sexual advances
- Verbal insults (direct and indirect)
- Rumour spreading
- Purposely preventing career advancement
- Threats in relation to job security
- Being overly critical
There are some grey areas whereby person A might perceive particular behaviours to be bullying but observers and/or perpetrators might not. Either way, A should be given the room and respect to speak up and perpetrators should be willing to listen and adjust behaviours even if it does not make immediate sense. This is about respect for others.
Additionally, certain behaviours might seem innocuous. The odd jibe which is laughed off as a ‘joke’ and it is implied that the person hasn’t a sense of humour. However these jibes add up and if there is a constant attacking of a person, then this constitutes as bullying.
So what? Who cares about these whiners?
Well, as a business, this will impact you via
- Increased absenteeism and presenteeism
- Higher staff turnover resulting in productivity and recruitment & training costs
- Generally lower productivity and performance issues
- Low employee engagement and staff morale
- Lack of trust and respect for management
- Poor relations between employer-employee
- A bad reputation which will ultimately impact sales
And for employees
- Increased stress
- Poor mental health
- Ill physical health
- Sub standard performance and productivity
- Lower employee engagement and motivation
Costing UK businesses c£18bn per year, likely more. 91% of employees do not think that bullying is handled at all appropriately in the UK.
R works at a boutique firm. He was asked to join for his work ethic, network connections and his drive. For about 6 months, he was encouraged to do his job well and left to his own devices. Then the tide turned and suddenly his every move was monitored, picked apart, questioned and destroyed. If he hit his sales targets, the targets were moved. If he went out to see clients, he was told that he should be at the desk. If he was at his desk, they asked him why he was not out there generating more business. His colleagues frequently spoke in their native tongue in front of him and about him. The relentless nature of the attacking lasted 4 years and it severely affected his physical and mental health. By the time I saw him, he was a shell of his former self. Lacking in confidence, nervous, angry, bitter and sad.
From the conversations, it transpired that his immediate line manager had a beef with R. R’s numbers infinitely outnumbered the manager’s and the manager clearly saw R as a threat, instead of seeing R as an asset and one to be encouraged. Surely if R performs, the team wins and therefore the firm wins and line manager can look like a hero for hiring and nurturing R. No such luck. The behaviour got worse as the bullying spread throughout the firm. Culturally, people felt insecure and there wasn’t a strong team environment. Every man for himself and all that. So R had nowhere to go even when he raised these issues firstly with his line manager and HR. In fact, HR went so far as to reprimand him for daring to speak out, as well as raising it with the CEO who then gave R an earful. What a great and healthy company to work for – can’t wait to send my application form in…. In this case, there was clear evidence of bullying by an individual but also one within a particular culture. Not surprisingly, R resigned and is now a much happier person.
What to do if you’re being bullied
Theoretically, the law is on your side but bullying is very hard to prove.
- Speak to the person who is bullying you. There is every chance he/she has no idea that you are being bullied by them. A chance needs to be given to them to change. And incidentally, it might take awhile to observe any meaningful changes, especially if they didn’t realize they were ‘bullying’ you in the first place
- Raise it with HR and get them to help you come up with a plan for tackling the issue. Be mindful of the fact that HR is there to represent the firm. This is not to say they are taking sides but that they will not automatically believe your story just because you say so. Their priority is to ensure that procedures have been followed and that your accusation is treated fairly. They will investigate and depending on the questions they ask, as well as the manner in which the enquiry is being made, you might find yourself happy with the conclusions found, or sorely disappointed. Do ensure that appropriate actions points on recommended changes have been followed after the investigation. Even if they find no fault on the part of the alleged perpetrator, there is nothing wrong with you asking for some changes in behaviour.
- Raise it with someone senior and get them to help you raise the issue
- Gather evidence. Sadly with bullying it is very hard to prove especially if it is done through subtly. Eg it is difficult to prove that you were genuinely overlooked for that promotion if someone else was apparently better qualified. However if your case is true, you can prove it through other means as well eg persistent bullying. Emails, witnesses, descriptions of incidents all help.
If you are a witness, do something about it, like support the person being bullied. Take notes down as evidence which helps. Don’t be a coward and pretend you haven’t observed such toxic behaviour.
Sadly sometimes it is untenable for the person being bullied to stay. They may or may not have won the battle but to continue working with the perpetrator may prove too difficult. Do work as much as you can with the organization to try and find a suitable solution for you and your career. However, sometimes, you might be better off leaving a toxic environment. Only you can decide that for yourself.
Karen Kwong is a highly experienced executive & business coach who has worked with start-ups and social enterprises through to large established corporates (including FTSE100 companies) across a number of industries including financial services, engineering, retail and media & communications. She also advises boards on their dynamics. Added to this, she spent almost twenty years working at a senior level in fund management. She also has a Masters in Organisational Psychology. For more please see here or contact her at: email@example.com
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