18 million working days are lost each year due to bullying
Organisations report around 1 in 3 staff experience bullying in the workplace, so what can we do to make a difference? Employers are responsible for preventing bullying and harassment, so why are so many failing?
Firstly, bullying as a concept is misunderstood, as it’s based on an individual’s interpretation: One person’s bully is another person’s strong manager. This ambiguity is exacerbated by the common approach of discussing bullying and harassment together, even though harassment has really clear guidelines and is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. Bullying isn’t against the law, but harassment is. Does this provide an excuse not to take bullying as seriously?
Employers have made progress, with bullying and harassment policies commonplace, but what does this mean for men and women in business who are being bullied at work? It’s probably taken them some time to recognise that they are being bullied, especially if it’s psychological bullying, where the target feels useless, hopeless, and blame themselves.
If you feel you’re being bullied the first step is to speak to the bully, but this takes courage. If that doesn’t work you could use formal grievance procedures.
Let’s just consider the flaws in this approach
In order to lodge a grievance, bullying needs to take place over a period of time and not be an isolated incident. Once the target has recognised they feel bullied, they have to collect evidence. This means continuing being bullied in order to prove it to others. They’re at an emotional low by the time they have enough evidence to bring a case – and that’s just the beginning.
Those handling the grievance probably have little or no training, and may hold opposing perceptions of what constitutes bullying
They look for evidence of what has happened and when, and don’t focus enough on the impact
They speak to other staff members, failing to recognise that a bully will not have the same relationship with them because that’s all part of the behaviour – targeting an individual
Witnesses may not come forward or speak the truth because they fear job loss or being bullied themselves – particularly if it’s the boss
In the meantime, the target’s performance is affected or they’re absent from work due to ill health. By this point, they may be being advised to leave the job for their own wellbeing.
So they leave, or move to a different part of the organisation, and the bully moves on to the next target, because it was obviously just a clash of personalities, or inability to cope with the job. It couldn’t be bullying, because the organisation doesn’t tolerate bullying, and so the cycle continues…
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes bullying will be tackled effectively through these processes, but it is still time consuming and emotionally distressing. The impact can be lasting, damaging confidence and self-esteem for years.
But there is a better way. It is time to change the focus to improving self-awareness and emotional responsiveness so people are better equipped to handle conflict. Let’s take the emphasis off proving that bullying has taken place and start preventing it in the first place. Let’s ensure earlier intervention, offering support to build emotional resilience. And for those who have been through this? Let’s ensure they have the support they need to move on.
This is one of a series of articles by Nicki Eyre about the impact of bullying. Nicki Eyre is a Transformational Coach based in Harrogate covering Harrogate, Leeds and York. Nicki offers support programmes for businesses and individuals to increase self-awareness and emotional resilience. She supports people struggling to cope with bullying to help them move on.
Contact Nicki for a confidential discussion about your experience: