No workplace is immune from bullying. It’s an issue that pervades all industries and is becoming more prevalent. In fact, the number of employment tribunal claims increased by 44% from June 2021-2022.
Not only can bullying seriously affect your mood, and cause or worsen existing mental health conditions, a recent study in The European Heart Journal found that it can also increase the risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease.
Businesses have a legal responsibility to spot the signs and take action. For those looking for advice on how to combat workplace bullying, Sathya Smith, CEO and founder of Piper, a management enablement platform, has shares her tips.
Smith has 15 years of management and leadership experience and previously worked as head of partner Technology at Google for 12 years. While there, Smith ranked in the 98th percentile of Google’s managers and took part in its 10-year-long ‘Project Oxygen’, a study aimed at uncovering the attributes that make a high-performing team manager.
Define what bullying looks like
You can't stop something if you don't know how it looks. We tend to think of bullying as we did in the playground, think of snide remarks or intimidation. But in the workplace, it can be harder to define. Workplace expert ACAS (the advisory, conciliation and arbitration service) says employees should look out for examples such as:
- Malicious rumours spread by others
- Humiliation, for example, putting you down in meetings
- Higher workload than others, purposefully given by a boss
- Someone at your level or lower undermining your authority regularly
- Consistent unfair feedback
HR should create an internal policy that outlines bullying, including clear workplace examples. That way, people can't second guess or dismiss their feelings. And others who aren't involved can spot it more clearly when it's happening.
Train your managers
Leadership and HR focus on work culture, but it's managers who witness the day-to-day. Managers are immersed in the team, and through weekly 1:1s, they can build rapport with colleagues.
Make sure your managers have attended anti-bullying training and regularly check in with managers on employee behaviour – they're most likely to be the first to spot a change in dynamics. To ensure you're hearing about it, empower your managers with the confidence to identify and raise issues.
On the flip side, though you hope no manager would take advantage of their authority, it would be foolish to assume it doesn't happen. Sadly, Monster found that 51% of respondents had been bullied by a boss or manager, compared to 39% by co-workers.
Even though manager training should significantly reduce this statistic, employees still need educating. Make clear what channels people can confidentially report bullying, be it from a senior team member or another colleague.
Take immediate action
Even with the best work culture, and all the above in place, bullying can happen. It only takes one person to change the entire vibe of a workplace. It's up to you to make it abundantly clear that you don't tolerate such behaviour.
If an employee raises an issue, address it immediately. Don't shy away from confrontation for fear of upsetting the team dynamics further. You have a duty of care to your employee and your wider team. Take action: gather the facts and speak with both parties. Monitor the situation, and if nothing changes, further action is necessary.
"With trends like quiet quitting, quiet firing, and even quiet promotions now emerging, it's clear employees and employers are eager to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly at work," says Smith.
"No one wants to tolerate poor work culture and workplace bullying. The example needs to be set from the top, so don't shy away from the topic. Talking on the subject is the best way to enact change, and it's great to see bullying prevention month shining a light on the issue. "