Anti Bullying Week Certificate

“Bullying is what happens in the school playground, it doesn’t happen at my age” or so said a staff member to me during an investigation into allegations of workplace bullying.

However, that particular investigation revealed a catalogue of incidents of bullying behaviour towards this person and others over a prolonged period. So why had this been allowed to happen to so many people for so long? Why didn’t people speak out sooner? If they did speak out, were they taken seriously?

Failing to understand what bullying is – understanding the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour towards others in the workplace – can lead to many instances of bullying being unreported. This is particularly true of younger workers I have interviewed, some of whom had experienced fairly horrific behaviour towards them by a senior manager, but having not experienced any other office environments, they had simply accepted this as “normal” and that they needed to “toughen up”. However, I have also come across more experienced workers who also failed to identify bullying behaviour towards them at first, as it can be insidious and accumulate over time. 

The types of bullying behaviour that may first spring to mind may include name calling, cyber bullying, physical violence or threatening, abusive or patronising behaviours. However, it can also be subtler: being ignored, being excluded from meetings or social events or spreading malicious rumours or gossip behind someone’s back. Either way, over a period of time such behaviours can wear down an individual’s confidence, wellbeing and self-esteem, and lead the victim to feel that it is their weakness that is causing them anxiety, rather than the perpetrator’s behaviour. The individual’s performance and attendance may be affected, and, over time, the negative impact spreads beyond the individual, adversely affecting team morale, organisational culture and business performance. 

Unlike harassment, there is no legal definition of bullying. This can make it seem more difficult to address, and indeed when working with local businesses, I have come across employers expressing reluctance to challenge bullying behaviours formally as it can appear “subjective”. However, there are simple steps employers can take to make it easier to address:

  • Encouraging positive behaviours and setting expectations, for example through a code of conduct, Equality & Diversity policy, values statements and leading by example. Involve staff at all levels in developing standards of agreed behaviours and ensure they are clearly communicated. 
  • Ensure that all employees have regular opportunities to provide feedback on their experiences within your organisation, whether through employee surveys, reviews and appraisals and informal “open door” policy.
  • Clear policies and procedures, including giving specific examples of unacceptable conduct. The ACAS definition of bullying is a useful starting point and worth including in your internal HR policies/staff handbook. Most employers will list bullying under their definition of gross misconduct in the disciplinary procedure, which sets a clear message that this will not be tolerated and enables you to take decisive action in serious cases.
  • When conducting an investigation into allegations of bullying, use the ACAS definition (or your internal definition) of bullying as a reference point to help individuals to identify any relevant incidents and, if further action is necessary, to explain to the perpetrator why you have concerns about their behaviour. 
  • Don’t have your head in the sand! It is easier to address conflict at the earliest stage, so rather than avoid the issue, talk to employees informally if possible at the first sign of trouble. Sometimes, an employee may not have realised that they had been causing offence and an informal word may be all that is needed to put things right. Mediation may help to resolve conflict if both parties are willing to take this approach, although this is likely to be more effective in less serious cases and where issues are resolved promptly before they are allowed to escalate.
  • If you need to take more formal action, ensure that you follow your internal procedures and ACAS guidance, including ensuring all parties concerned have opportunities to be heard during the investigation process and before any decision is made. 
  • Remember that employers have a legal duty to provide a safe working environment for all their staff, which means that you need to take a proactive approach to tackle bullying. Bullying may also be unlawful harassment if it relates to a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, such as race or sex. 

If you are an employee experiencing workplace bullying, here are some tips on how to handle the situation:

  • The ACAS guide suggests confronting the bully, letting them know how their behaviour is affecting you. However, if you do not feel comfortable doing this, or the behaviour does not stop, speak to your line manager (or their manager) or HR. Alternatively you could speak to a trade union representative if you are part of a union. 
  • Keep a record of incidents, including times, dates, locations and who was involved and what happened and also how it made you feel. Use this record, whether you are raising the issue informally or formally, to back up what you are saying. 
  • If you need to use a formal grievance procedure, remember that you can be accompanied at meetings by a colleague of your choice, or a trade union representative. 
  • Recognise that criticism or personal remarks are not connected to your abilities. They reflect the bully's own weaknesses, and are meant to intimidate and control you. 
  • Don’t assume things will get better on their own. Unfortunately, research into bullying by the late Tim Field points to the character of a “serial bully”: a Jekyll and Hyde persona for whom bullying is their modus operandi, but who is also capable of charming others, giving them the confidence that they are above the rules. You need to take action before the situation becomes unbearable.  
  • More information and support for people experiencing workplace bullying can be found at Bully Online. You may also find the ACAS helpline (0300 1231100) a useful source of support and information.

Kathryn Roynon HR & Training Consultancy is supporting Anti-Bullying Week 2017 by raising awareness of tackling workplace bullying. Anti-Bullying Week is an annual event organised by Anti-Bullying Alliance and this year it is being held between the 13th and 17th November. 



Whether you are an employer looking to take proactive steps to establish a positive working culture, or you are worried about how to tackle allegations of bullying in your workplace, get in touch via the contact page or call 01249 701486. 

Further useful information about workplace bullying for both employees and employers is available on the ACAS website.