Bullying is a serious and concerning problem in today’s workplace. If you are you being bullied at work, you are not alone. A CIPD report in January this year revealed that 15% of workers have experienced bullying in the last three years with less than half reporting it and 24% of employees believe that issues such as bullying are merely swept under the carpet at work.
Allegations of bullying and toxic working environments, including within the professional and financial services sectors and the legal profession, have been reported in the news and are helping to shine a light on the problem. A global survey within the legal profession in 2018 staggeringly found that a half of women and third of men have experienced workplace bullying.
While in some cases bullying may be obvious, in others there may be uncertainty over whether the behaviour constitutes bullying. Some employees may mistakenly accept such behaviour as being part of the job, culture of the organisation or working within a tough industry. Bullying can take various forms including face to face, over the phone, in emails, instant messaging or other written communications, physical and online, ranging from being subtle or intangible to overt or direct and can be a single incident or repeated incidents.
Unhelpfully, there is no legal definition of bullying. ACAS characterises it as “Offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient”.
Examples of bullying can include being undermined or humiliated in private or in public, unjustified criticisms of work, being ignored or excluded from work or social activities, constantly being put down or picked on, threats to job security, being set up to fail and inappropriate or offensive comments.
Cultures of fear within organisations or industries often prevent employees from speaking up about bullying. These may include fears of retaliation, repercussions on job security and career progression, being perceived as weak or incapable, not being believed or taken seriously, making matters worse, not feeling confident or supported in raising complaints or that no action will be taken. Quite often, the bully is someone in a position of authority or more senior than the employee or an integral part of the business and therefore protected, which makes it all the more harder to report concerns about bullying.
The difficulty with this is that it can lead to many suffering in silence, compounding the problem and allowing the bullying to continue. This can result in on-going, long term and substantial damaging effects on employees including on physical and mental health, emotional and psychological wellbeing, frequent or long term sickness absences, loss of confidence, demotivation, reduced performance and productivity and forced resignations. It also allows bullies to remain unchecked and bully others.
In other cases, bullying may be an accepted part of an industry or culture within an organisation. This can unfortunately result in some employers looking the other way when bullying occurs or seeking to explain it away as a ‘difference of personalities’ or a ‘robust management style’ or even blaming the victim as being over-sensitive, over-reacting or having performance issues.
However, bullying can also cause serious issues for businesses including poor employee relations and morale, high staff turnover, absenteeism, lost productivity, reputational damage, substantial time and resources being spent on dealing with complaints and litigation and the associated adverse financial implications of these.
Clearly action needs to be taken to stamp out workplace bullying. The #MeToo movement is helping to raise awareness of unacceptable behaviours and encourage individuals to speak out against sexual harassment. Isn’t it time for anti-bullying movements to be supported further, to gain momentum and empower employees to stand up against bullying?
About the author
Bina specialises in successfully extricating senior executives from difficult situations at work (with particular expertise in dealing with workplace bullying, harassment and discrimination). Bina is a tough negotiator and regularly secures valuable exit packages for senior executives as well as substantial financial settlements in litigation.