How to prevent workplace bullying

How to prevent workplace bullying

While they may seem like childish issues, bullying and harassment are serious problems that affect a large number of workplaces throughout the UK and lead to issues such as reduced productivity and poor mental health. They can also be a legal issue, with the Equality Act 2010 making it illegal to act inappropriately towards someone because of their protected characteristics, such as their age or sexual orientation.

Employers have a responsibility to address bullying and harassment in the workplace, and there are a range of measures that they can use to help achieve this, several of which will be explored in this article.

For more information on what bullying is, and why it is an issue, consider reading our 'frequently asked questions about bullying and harassment' article, or taking our Bullying and Harassment training course.

Establish clear policies and guidance

Employers must have a clear anti-bullying policy in place to tackle inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. This should include information on:

  • The forms of behaviour considered to be inappropriate.
  • The effect that inappropriate behaviour can have on others.
  • The legal implications of bullying and harassment.
  • Who is liable for any bullying or harassment that takes place.
  • How a person can make a complaint.
  • The role that managers, unions and employee representatives have in preventing bullying and harassment.

The policy should also contain several statements and commitments, such as:

  • A statement explaining that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated.
  • A commitment to take all allegations of bullying or harassment seriously, and to deal with them in a timely and confidential manner.
  • A commitment to protect those that have reported bullying or harassment from victimisation.
  • A statement explaining how the anti-bullying policy will be implemented.

An anti-bullying policy should be agreed upon by trade union or employee representatives before it is implemented and, once this has been done, any necessary training and guidance should be provided in order to make employees aware of the anti-bullying policy and what it requires of them.

An anti-bullying policy should also be monitored and reviewed regularly, and after any bullying incidents, in order to ensure that it is effective.

Develop a culture of respect

One of the most effective ways of preventing bullying is to develop a positive workplace culture in which everyone is treated with dignity and respect. Organisations should also regularly consult with employees and hold open discussions with them about the issues they are facing at work, which can help to discourage bullying and harassment.

To help achieve this, senior managers must clearly understand what a positive workplace culture should look and feel like, and demonstrate behaviour that aligns with this culture.

Maintain fair procedures

All organisations should have an anti-bullying policy in place that, among other things, outlines how an employee can make a complaint of bullying or harassment, and which explains how this complaint will be dealt with. Ideally, these complaints should be dealt with informally and as promptly as possible.

In order to be effective, organisations must ensure that their complaints procedure is fair, and that everyone who makes a complaint is treated equally and with respect. Part of doing so includes ensuring that every complaint is kept confidential, and that the alleged victim can bring a person of their choice to any interviews or disciplinary hearings they are required to attend.

Examine employee behaviour

Bullying and harassment is always unacceptable, and everyone should take steps to prevent it from occurring in the workplace.

To help with this, employers should examine the behaviour of its employees to ensure that it is not inappropriate or discriminatory. Often, bullies are unaware that their actions are upsetting someone else and, by helping someone to understand their own bullying behaviour, they may be able to realise this and alter how they act before a complaint is made.

Set behavioural standards

Statements and guidance can be used alongside an anti-bullying policy to set behavioural standards and help employees understand what is expected of them while at work.

Clearly defining what behaviour is considered acceptable and unacceptable can make it easier for people to fully understand their actions and the responsibilities they have towards those around them.

Communicate effectively with staff

Any anti-bullying policies and guidance should be communicated effectively to employees in order to ensure that they fully understand their rights and responsibilities. There should also be a method in place for communicating with all employees so that any new guidance or policy updates can be easily shared with them.

Alongside this, organisations must communicate effectively with those who have complained about bullying in the workplace. This can help victims to feel more comfortable, and demonstrates that their complaint is being taken seriously. It may also be appropriate to establish a dedicated secure method of communication that can be used to submit complaints of bullying or harassment in order to ensure that they remain confidential.

Provide advice and counselling

Employers should have a dedicated member of staff who is trained in how to deal with reports of bullying and who is able to provide advice and counselling to those that are experiencing inappropriate behaviour at work.

This person may also be trained in how to provide guidance and counselling to those that carried out the inappropriate behaviour in order to help them understand what was wrong with their behaviour and how they can change it. This can be a highly effective way of tackling bullying, especially if the bully was unaware of the harm that their actions were causing.

If you have more questions consider reading our detailed FAQ on bullying and harassment