BLOG ARTICLE
Last updated: 20.06.22

Bullying in the Workplace - What Can Employers Do to Help?

Bullying is something that can affect people of any age in a wide range of environments. From prejudiced behaviour to spiteful comments and spreading misinformation, bullying can take many forms and can have a really detrimental impact on the people who experience it.

If you’re an employer then bullying and harassment in the workplace is a serious issue that you should work hard to prevent in order to protect your employees and ensure that your workplace remains a place where staff feel safe and can work productively. If cases of bullying do occur, it is your responsibility to act quickly to ensure that this behaviour ceases and appropriate consequences are implemented so that it doesn’t happen again.

This article is a guide for employers or managers to help them understand what to do if it is brought to their attention that a member of staff has been bullied and how they can help to prevent this kind of behaviour in the first place.

What is Bullying in the Workplace?

When you hear the word ‘bullying’ you tend to think of the kind of behaviour that only occurs within a school. But bullying can affect people of all ages and happen in any environment, including the workplace.

Bullying in the workplace occurs when an employee is targeted by people they work with through regular mistreatment, harassment or abuse. As with any form of bullying, this mistreatment can take the form of physical, emotional or psychological abuse and harms the victim in a range of different ways.

Workplace bullying can impact anyone and take place anywhere on the scale from occasional teasing to constant abusive behaviour. It may be motivated by prejudiced attitudes, jealousy or spitefulness, but it is never acceptable and should always be taken incredibly seriously.

Being a victim of workplace bullying can be an incredibly isolating experience, as many adults feel as though they should be able to deal with this behaviour themselves and are embarrassed or apprehensive about asking for help. Not only is it important to demonstrate a zero-tolerance policy for bullying in the workplace so that perpetrators know they will face consequences, but it is also important to let employees know who they can talk to and how these situations will be dealt with.

How to Prevent Bullying in the Workplace

Managing bullying in the workplace begins with creating an environment where this kind of behaviour is unlikely to happen in the first place. Here are some of the best ways to do just that.

Make Behavioural Expectations Clear

First things first; in order to prevent bullying behaviour at work, you need to make expectations clear for the kind of behaviour that is and not acceptable in your workplace. This should be outlined in your employee handbook and ideally through your company values as well, with managers and directors being sure to lead by example and discuss expectations and concerns with individual employees.

Expectations and company culture will differ between businesses, but no organisation should have a workplace environment where bullying takes place as a result of a hostile or unsupportive atmosphere. No matter the level of professionalism or candour you expect from your workforce, all employees should understand that any negative behaviour towards their colleagues will not be tolerated and should see this reflected in the behaviour of those around them.

This is particularly important when it comes to prejudiced behaviour in the workplace such as sexism, racism or homophobia. Companies should explicitly highlight that they are inclusive environments that will not accept abuse towards employees because of their identity, whether as part of their values or in a code of conduct or policy.

Create an Inclusive, Supportive Culture

Leading on from that point, a great way to prevent bullying in the workplace is to focus on creating an inclusive and supportive environment. The size of your business and the work that you do may impact this to an extent, but every organisation should aim to be a place where staff are happy to work, can foster good relationships with their colleagues, and feel supported by their team.

Creating a workplace culture like this is easier said than done however, as it does partly come down to the kind of people you hire and whether they are a good fit for your business. However, ensuring that employees feel listened to, tackling stress and overworking, facilitating social activities and providing the resources and support necessary for growth and development will all help to improve company culture and make negative behaviour like bullying less likely to occur.

Have a Zero-Tolerance Policy

One of the simplest but most effective ways to prevent workplace bullying is to ensure that you have a zero-tolerance policy for this kind of behaviour. If employees are aware of the consequences they will face if they are found to be bullying another colleague, and if these consequences are regularly reiterated, they will hopefully be less likely to act in this way. 

Be Strict with Action

As well as making the consequences of bullying clear, you also need to ensure that you follow through on this if any cases of bullying take place at work. Being strict with action, responding to claims of bullying quickly and ensuring that other employees are aware of how bullying situations are handled will demonstrate that you are serious about having a zero-tolerance policy and that it isn’t just for show.

This will also make victims of workplace bullying more likely to come forward and report the behaviour, as they know that they will be taken seriously and the perpetrator will be punished no matter their position in the company.

How to Deal With Bullying in the Workplace

Dealing with bullying in the workplace is something that can be incredibly tricky to handle, but is a very important task that sets a precedent and should make sure that no further cases of bullying take place. If you’re wondering what to do about bullying in the workplace and how to resolve bullying in the workplace, consider the following pieces of advice.

Act Quickly

The most important thing you should do when you are informed about bullying in the workplace is to take action as quickly as possible. Cases of bullying tend to escalate over time, and putting a stop to this behaviour as soon as you can means that the victim won’t come to any more harm.

Whilst it’s important not to jump to conclusions or make any serious decisions on a whim, you should immediately take steps to prevent any further bullying and start official procedures for handling the claim. If an employee is at a real risk of harm because of the bullying, you may need to move them to another team or department or even grant them leave for a few days whilst you decide on the best course of action.

Treat the Issue Seriously

It can be tempting to try and deal with claims of bullying without going through official channels and trying to keep the situation away from the attention of other employees. This can be especially difficult if you have a good relationship with someone involved, as you may want to try and talk to them informally until you have a clear idea of what has happened.

However, it is always best to take all claims of bullying seriously and follow official procedures, as this not only ensures that you remain impartial during the process but also demonstrates to the victim that their situation is important and is being taken seriously. It might transpire that the situation can be quickly resolved without too much fuss, but it’s always best to respond in the same way with official procedures just in case.

Taking any claim of bullying seriously also acts as a deterrent to others that are involved in types of bullying in the workplace, showing that any bullying behaviour has serious consequences.

Remain Impartial

Remaining impartial whilst dealing with bullying in the workplace is essential, no matter the situation. It can be difficult if you know any of the people involved, but ensuring that you are unbiased as you clarify the situation is very important to ensure that it is handled appropriately.

Take the time to hear the perspectives of everyone involved and consider bringing in another, impartial member of staff to ensure that you can form an unbiased opinion. Refer to official procedures if in doubt, and try not to bring any of your personal reactions into any discussions about the bullying. 

Document the Procedure

In serious cases of bullying where an employee may try to make a legal claim or ask for a tribunal, having documentation of everything that has happened is very useful. If an employee tells you about a case of bullying, even if they are just concerned about something they have seen or heard, it is important to document this statement and any further communication so that you have a clear understanding of what was said and what happened next.

This can also be very useful to ensure that unbiased action is taken, as other people can consult what has been said and what has happened.

Offer Additional Support

The effects of bullying in the workplace can have a lasting impact on those involved, but in some cases the victim of bullying may just be expected to return to work as normal after their situation has been resolved. You should offer support to anyone that has been impacted by any types of bullying in the workplace, whether that is through time off work, counselling, or follow-up meetings to ensure that you minimise the impact and take care of your staff.

Learn from the Experience

Finally, after dealing with bullying in the workplace and resolving a case, it’s important to look back on what happened and identify whether there was anything that could have been done to prevent the incident in the first place. 

Perhaps the victim didn’t know how they could report what was happening, or they were unsure of who they needed to talk to about being bullied. Or perhaps an internal system meant that bullying behaviour wasn’t noticed by anyone else, which meant that it escalated to a severe point that really harmed an employee.

Cases of bullying are a negative experience, but it is possible to learn from what happened and make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

FAQs

What constitutes bullying in the workplace?

There is no legal definition of bullying, but in general it can be described as unwanted behaviour from a person or group of people that makes an individual feel humiliated, undermined or harms them emotionally. Offensive, insulting, intimidating, malicious or physically threatening behaviour directed towards an employee from another in the workplace constitutes bullying, whether it occurs in person, over messages or emails, inside or outside of working hours.

What is indirect bullying in the workplace?

Indirect bullying is a type of bullying that involves a bully or group of bullies trying to undermine and impact their victim’s reputation by spreading rumours, saying malicious things about them when they’re not around, and turning other people against them. This kind of bullying is one of the worst because the victim rarely comes into direct contact with the bullies and a lot of the bullying behaviour is verbal, which makes it difficult to prove that it occurred.

What are the signs of bullying in the workplace?

Bullying in the workplace can take many forms, so the signs of this behaviour are quite varied. Obvious signs include aggressive or threatening behaviour towards employees, making mocking, humiliating or embarrassing comments, sending hurtful messages to the victim or about the victim to others, and even preventing someone from advancing in their role. More subtle signs that someone is a victim of workplace bullying include employees becoming withdrawn, avoiding their colleagues, appearing not to be invited to meetings or gatherings, demonstrating a lack of self-worth or even handing in their notice without being able to give a clear reason why.

Summary

Reporting bullying in the workplace usually takes a lot of courage, so as an employer you need to take claims of this kind of behaviour seriously and ensure that appropriate action is taken to protect your staff from further harm. Preventing bullying and harassment in the workplace starts with ensuring that you’ve created a culture where good relationships are built and any negative or abusive behaviour is immediately called out, but having an effective procedure to follow if any bullying does occur is also very important.

If you’d like to find out more about the best ways to handle this kind of behaviour at work, we offer an online ‘Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace’ course which covers this topic and more, offering advice and guidance for employers and managers.

TOP