Today marks the start of Anti-Bullying Week.  As part of our commitment to helping employers build kinder, fairer, more productive workplaces, over the summer byrne·dean commissioned a substantial piece of research into workplace bullying. The results are in and we hope you will be able to catch Victoria Lewis, our Chief Executive, talking about it on various radio stations (for latest updates, follow us twitter.com/byrnedean1).

The infographic below captures the headlines statistics. 

The results are concerning, if perhaps not surprising.  They show that employers still have a lot to do to address this perennial problem. More than 30% of employees believe they have been bullied at work.  Over half of those were bullied by their manager or boss.  Only a third reported it.  So we know that two in ten victims are not telling their employer about it.  40% say they even changed jobs or career as a result of bullying.  If those leavers are not speaking up about it at the time, there’s a frightening probability that employers are losing good people and retaining the bullies!

What can an employer do to tackle it?  We recommend a four-step plan:

Step one:  Move away from denial.  

Perhaps you are thinking that bullying’s not a problem in your workplace?  Maybe it’s an issue that only affects other people in other organisations?  Think again.  Bullying can happen anywhere.  Those in positions of influence (whether because of their role, status or seniority) need to be open to that, and to addressing to the issue. Denial is dangerous.

Step two:  Take preventative measures.  

Prevention is better than cure.  There are a number of important things employers can do to minimise the risk of bullying:

  1. Clearly communicate expected standards of behaviour/conduct.  Be clear that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated.  A well publicised and accessible code of conduct and/or appropriate policies are needed.  They need to be clear and people need to know they exist (ideally they will have actually read them!).
  2. Make sure staff are properly trained.  (We would say that!) Are you sure everyone in your workplace knows what bullying is? Do they know when their behaviour “crosses the line” for their colleagues? If not, they may well be getting it wrong.  Our experience, gained from working with thousands of employees, is that many of them (mistakenly) think that provided someone doesn’t intend to cause upset, or if the majority of people would “okay with it”, there won’t be problem.  It’s not as simple as that.
  3. Set the tone from the top.  Policies and training really won’t help at all if leaders and those in positions of authority or influence don’t role model and ‘live’ the expected standards themselves. 
  4. Don’t avoid difficult conversations.   When you notice potentially problematic behaviours, you need to walk towards the issue at an early stage.   Too often cultural ‘warning signs’ or red flags (banter, nicknames, cliques, etc.) go unaddressed.  These behaviours may, if not themselves ‘bullying’, indicate there are deeper issues.   They need to be addressed (no matter who is displaying them).

Step three:  Ensure the culture encourages people to ‘speak up’ about bullying.

You’re going to be far better placed to resolve a problem quickly (and less catastrophically for all those concerned) if the recipient of the behaviour (or someone who notices it) raises it with you at an early stage.  Often employees tell us that fear stops them from taking this step.  (Remember - most people report being bullied by the boss!).  To change this you need to change the culture (including through training and role modelling).  Employees need to feel confident that they will be supported and that you will deal with it well.  

Step four: When people do speak up, make sure you deal with it in the right way.

Not always as simple as it sounds… What’s appropriate will depend on the nature of the complaint; the seriousness of the behaviour; and who’s involved.  Even when they do raise it, most victims will say they simply want the behaviour to stop.  They don’t want to rock the boat.  Sometimes you may be able to achieve the informal low-level resolution they want.   But in other cases a more formal process may often be needed.  Is the organisation ‘zero tolerance’?  What does that actually mean in terms of your approach?  You’ll need to be consistent, transparent and fair to all involved.  In any event, dealing with it promptly, reasonably and sensitively will be key.  

byrne·dean’s anti-bullying research highlights the imperative for all employers to honestly accept the possibility that bullying is happening.  It might involve facing up to cultural challenges (perhaps even opening cans of worms) but it also presents an opportunity to create a fairer, kinder, more productive workplace.  Anti-bullying week seems like a great time to start.  

We’ve worked with many organisations to bring about real change.  We’d be delighted to talk to you about how we can help.