The word 'bullying' can conjure up unpleasant images of the playground. But bullying isn't confined to teenagers and schooldays - it can happen to anyone, at any age and research published by the TUC shows that almost a third of people are bullied at work. The poll reveals:
- Nearly a third of people (29%) have been bullied at work
- Women (34%) are more likely to be victims of bullying than men (23%)
- The highest prevalence of workplace bullying is among 40 to 59-year-olds, where 34% of people are affected
- In nearly three-quarters (72%) of cases, bullying is carried out by a manager
- More than one in three (36%) people who report being bullied at work quit their job
Workplace bullying causes mental health problems and can affect morale, productivity and employee engagement. Recognizing bullying in the workplace can be difficult as it's not always overtly visible - it can be subtle, hidden, it can be many small incidents over a long period rather than one action. It might be a group of people doing the bullying, rather than one individual.
The person being bullied may be reluctant to speak out for various reasons - perhaps they're new to the company and are under the impression this is just the way things are, or maybe they're too shy, too self-conscious, or don't want to be considered weak.
Bullying isn't always easy to spot, but there are some clear signs to look out for.
1. Isolation and exclusion
Is there a member of staff who always sits on their own and is never involved in the office chit-chat? Of course, they may prefer to spend their breaks in solitude instead of going out with their colleagues. But if they're never invited to social events or other group activities, and conversations stop when they approach or walk into the room, are they being excluded intentionally?
2. Lateness and absenteeism
If someone's attendance and timekeeping is usually impeccable, but they've started to regularly phone in sick or arrive late to work, they might be avoiding someone in the office who's giving them a hard time or making them feel uncomfortable. Of course, the reason for this change in behavior could be down to pressures at home or other outside factors, but whatever the reason, a friendly, quiet word would be advisable here to find out what the problem is and to see how or if you can help.
3. Criticism and credit-taking
Constructive criticism is perfectly valid and acceptable. It helps people to do their job to the best of their abilities, but if the criticism is unwarranted and undermines or humiliates an individual, then this is considered to be bullying. So, if you hear someone - or hear rumors of someone - constantly criticizing another's work, ask yourself if the criticism is founded or is it unnecessary and over the top. Another form of bullying to look out for is one team member constantly taking the praise and credit for the work of another without giving them due acknowledgment.
The effects of bullying in the workplace
Apart from the possible effects of bullying on staff (such as a decline in happiness, wellbeing and self-esteem and an increase in stress and anxiety), there are plenty of costs to the business itself, including:
- Loss of productivity and profit
- Higher absenteeism
- Increased turnover of staff
- Decreased morale and loyalty
- Damaged reputation
- Possible lawsuits
Bullying in the workplace needs to be identified and stopped. If you suspect it's taking place, it needs to be reported as soon as possible to the relevant manager or department and dealt in accordance with company policies. Train all your managers to deal with bullying and let everyone know there's a zero-tolerance policy in place.