It can sometimes feel that barely a day, week or month can pass by without finding itself rebranded as a special time of year when we think about some aspect of working life. It can be hard to keep up. So I confess, until Wednesday (World Kindness Day) I was completely unaware that this has been anti-bullying week in the UK. I’m surprised not to have heard about it before, especially because for 20 years my remit included advising on situations where someone felt bullied.
Why the low profile? Bullying isn’t something that is easy to talk about, plus it’s hard to sell an ‘anti-‘ message. What would the campaign launch party look like? Would Shouty Steve in Sales, Barbed Betty in Banking and Gaslighting Gary in Glasgow be there? The problem is that Steve, Betty and Gary are likely to be blissfully unaware of the impact they have or, worryingly, they are aware – hello, Gary – but it works for them and nobody stops them. Maybe organisations don’t talk about bullying in the workplace as it is seen as more of an issue for schools than workplaces. It would be nice to think that people who rely on fear to get things done either change their ways or get weeded out quickly in the modern era. I asked a psychologist who sees a lot of City workers. Her reaction was strong “Bullying is a huge issue. We really need anti-bullying week.” There’s work to do.
What can we do that is quick and impactful? The way to raise awareness this year is to wear odd socks. I have done this, but I’m not sure the message is getting through. My suggestion is to imagine someone in your organisation for whom every week is bullying week. I would be surprised if, within a 1 minute walk of your workstation, there isn’t someone for whom going to work is a daily exercise in fear management. People whose experience at work revolves around questions such as, “Is Sam going to be Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde today?”, “Is Sam going to put me down again today?” or “Is Sam’s enforcer going to be aggressive towards me…again?” To go with my 2 contrasting socks, here are 2 contrasting options for what you could do:
Option 1 (right sock): Give anti-bullying week a higher profile next year. Do the sock thing if you like. If you have a role to advance mental health, speaking up, culture, inclusion, leadership or compliance at your organisation, you’ve got a year to decide how to give anti-bullying week a higher profile next year in your organisation. Why not mark it in your calendar for next November and add it to the agenda when discussing next year’s activities?
Option 2 (left sock): If you are a leader, here are 3 questions you could draw from to get an interesting conversation going. Sit down with someone objective, honest and informed about what’s happening on the ground in your area and ask:
- On a scale of 1-10, how confident are you that there isn’t a bullying problem in your area? What would increase your confidence?
- Is there anyone who you should be worried about? Are there any hot spots in terms of behaviour-driven complaints, turnover or health issues?
- What’s the single most impactful thing you, as a leader, could do?
The stakes are high when it comes to getting workplace culture right – it drives performance, it is pretty transparent and a lot of people are looking. We also have a duty of care to those around us – including not ignoring or excusing behaviour that makes people ill. It’s easy to assume that everything’s ok and bullying isn’t happening near you. But as with all wardrobe malfunctions, it’s worth a quick check that your socks (matching or otherwise) are pulled up when it comes to bullying.