Apr 22, 2023
Harassment & Bullying in the Workplace – Advice For Employers

Would you hit a colleague? Shout at someone who’d made a mistake? Would you refuse to work with someone who was black, female or pregnant? Jokingly call someone names? Withhold information? Join in gossip or office banter? You may answer ‘no’, but think back over the last six months, is your conscience crystal clear? One in ten employees think they have been bullied in the last six months. Nationally, that’s over 2.5 million people. Someone out there is harassing staff at work and it could be happening at yours.

Last year British Employment Tribunals dealt with over twenty-eight thousand discrimination claims, but not everyone takes their case to an ET, some go on long term sick leave. Over 72% of targets of bullying say they suffered stress and a survey by a long-term disability insurer found that claims for compensation arising from mental health problems had increased by 90% in the last five years. Doing nothing, in your business, is not an option.

What is harassment?

Harassment can be thought of as any unwanted behaviour that a person finds intimidating, upsetting, embarrassing, humiliating or offensive. The focus of all related legislation, the Sex Discrimination, Race Relations, Disability Discrimination and Protection from Harassment Acts and Regulations, lies in the impact of the behaviour on the recipient.

A survey in 2000, reported that withholding information, which affected a person’s performance, had been experienced by nearly half of all employees. Other ‘negative’ behaviours, which can be cited as harassment, involved having opinions and views ignored, being given tasks with unreasonable targets/deadlines, and being exposed to unmanageable workloads. These may be the symptoms of escalating conflict between a how to remove someone from teams chat manager and an employee or team, but many managers pass the blame on to the organisation itself.

Is the organisation’s culture to blame?

Harassment can be inherent in the way an organisation does business. Rewarding ‘tough’ managers with promotion or performance bonuses is something often bemoaned by their abused staff. Most employees can work with tough deadlines now and again, but their perception of how they are set, how much control they have over their work and the kind of rewards that are in place, can make the difference between feeling harassed and willingly making an effort.

In a UNISON survey, 90% of people said that the fact that bullies can get away with it was a major factor in the prevalence of bullying behaviour, and people were scared to report it. This may be a widely held belief based on little evidence but seen as ‘fact’ by staff, so it’s difficult to counteract unless an organisation is publicly seen to be doing something.

What effect does harassment have?

The laws on harassment focus on how a person feels about the behaviour that took place and the effects can be many. Symptoms include anger, anxiety, depression, withdrawal and problems concentrating. Targets often report a lack of confidence and complain of stomach upsets or seemingly minor illnesses.

However, there may actually be a lower rate of absenteeism because they are afraid of giving their persecutor more ammunition with which to harass them. They can become anxious about being branded ‘not up to the job’ and having their standing within the organisation undermined.

Charlotte Rayner’s research in1998, found that a quarter of those subjected to bullying at work left their employment, as did one in five of those who had witnessed it. Some stay on to fight for an apology or even vengeance, but many put up and shut up often destroying their personal lives in the process. Rayner found that the longer bullying went on, the less likely that there would be a satisfactory outcome. In fact, 84% of those questioned said that the bully had done it before, and three quarters said management knew this. If this is true, managers are failing in their duty of care towards their employees. Doing nothing is collusion and makes you liable.

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