How HR managers should deal with workplace bullying

A survey of over 2,000 UK employees, for UK law firm Slater and Gordon, found more than a third (37%) have been victim to bullying in the workplace. Further research shows that only 15% would report an incident to their line manager and would feel worried about the repercussions.

As a manager, it’s your responsibility to tackle bullying head-on and to reduce further distress to the victim, by taking the complaint seriously and assuring employees there will be no negative repercussions for coming forward with a concern.

However, we understand knowing exactly how to deal with workplace bullying appropriately and compassionately can be difficult. So, we’re talking you through four tips to help you nurture a better environment in your workplace and tackle bullying.

What is workplace bullying?

The UK government defines bullying and harassment as behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended. It’s something that can happen face-to-face, in writing, by email or phone. It can also take place online in varying forms, like on social media and in virtual meetings. It can include spreading malicious rumours, unfair treatment, regularly undermining someone or, from someone in a position of power, denying someone’s training or promotion opportunities.

Generally, people don’t perform well when forced to work in high-anxiety situations. As a result, it’s not only the employee who feels the impact, employers could actually face a loss of productivity due to workplace bullying. In fact, Stanford University suggested that when workers are facing bullying, productivity can decrease by up to 40%. 

Not only that, but employees who are bullied in the workplace also feel a loss of motivation, reduced ability to come to work and experience burnout.

That’s why it’s completely in the employer’s interest to stamp out bullying if it occurs for both the health and wellbeing of your employees and your business. 

Tip one: Create an anti-bullying policy

You may feel it’s best to allow your team to work out any issues amongst themselves. However, as a manager, you may be sidestepping your responsibility. In reality, you’re choosing to do nothing, which means the problem may continue, get worse and lead to more distress for the victim-survivor. 

By putting a clear statement and policy in place from the get-go, employees will understand what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour within your organisation. This policy should clearly state that your workplace doesn’t tolerate bullying and harassment and that all staff are required to treat each other with dignity and respect.

Breaches and consequences should also be stated in this policy so employees are aware of the disciplinary procedure. Finally, it’s important to include how victims of bullying can receive help and support from you, should a situation occur. You need to outline this clearly so victims feel confident reporting the issue, knowing you’ll take their experience seriously and you'll believe and support them.

Tip two: Take appropriate action

Friendships form in the workplace and sometimes you may be faced with a situation where the alleged bully is a colleague you’re close to. To tackle this kind of issue, you must try to be impartial - it’s your responsibility, as a manager, to remain neutral. If you cannot remain impartial then it might be more appropriate for somebody else to deal with this instance.

The first step in taking action with something as serious as bullying is usually a formal face to face investigation. Hold separate meetings with the alleged bully and the complainant. Remember, a victim of bullying often feels intimidated by the aggressor, so to understand the full story, you need to speak with them both separately.

Bullies often try to justify how they’ve conducted themselves. Perhaps they’ll say they’re pushing the complainant to be better or that it was just a joke. Assess the facts of what happened and how it impacted your team member’s ability to perform at work. Then, make sure you document the incident in the employee’s file, including details about the incident, information shared in your meeting, as well as dates, times and witnesses.

If these interviews confirm unacceptable behaviour, an apology from the bully may be appropriate, depending on the situation. If the incident is more serious, other appropriate consequences may be necessary. You should outline the potential outcomes in your policy as well.

Although appropriate action has been taken, it’s important to continue to monitor the bully’s conduct as any further incidents will require harsher discipline or even dismissal. 

Tip three: Catch things in the moment and correct them

From time to time, you may stumble upon unacceptable behaviour taking place between employees, whether you witness this in a face to face setting or get copied into some passive-aggressive sounding emails. It’s important in these situations to be an active bystander and to intervene, especially when you’re the HR manager.

The simplest and easiest way to deal with this kind of situation is to interrupt by addressing another matter and then deal with the person separately during a one-to-one meeting.

When you have this meeting, you need to address what the employee did wrong and tell them why it’s wrong. Bullying impacts employee health, morale, productivity and loyalty, so it’s vital the person understands this. Remind them of the anti-bullying policy and that good managers and employees don’t use intimidation, aggression or humiliation to get work done within a team. 

It’s also essential to offer support and training the person to handle situations better and more appropriately. Finally, you’ll want to check-in with the person who was on the receiving end of the harmful behaviour to make sure they’re ok and see if they need further support.

Tip four: Invest in reporting technology

By providing clear and safe reporting pathways, organisations can encourage a speak up culture. Employers should be actively encouraging employees to use reporting technology and should offer an anonymous reporting route for those who don’t feel comfortable enough to speak up with their name yet. Those who do speak out against bullying should also be encouraged and supported for doing so, rather than perpetuating any stigma. 

At Culture Shift, our technology increases the chances of incidents being reported with a simple step-by-step process. Plus, our software encourages positive and lasting cultural change by implementing proactive and preventative measures, targeted campaigns and training initiatives – all informed by the data you collect.

Taking a proactive and preventative approach to tackling negative and harmful behaviours will help protect company culture and employee wellbeing.

Put an end to bullying in your workplace

Bullying can have a detrimental impact on an employee's wellbeing. To take action and discover how Culture Shift can help reduce bullying in your workplace, book a demo. Just click the button below.

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