Phew … you are fresh out of school or university, having safely negotiated the pettiness and squabbles of the playground and you are now ready for your next adventure into the grown up world of work, the place where you walk shoulder to shoulder with the adults, the high powered folk who run the world.
And then you arrive on your first day …
In reality the work place can be equally as trivial and hurtful as the days of playschool, from silly arguments over stationery, right up to physical or verbal abuse. But what do you do when there is no teacher to turn to and it is no longer okay for your mum to write a letter of outrage in your defence?
What is work place bullying?
Let’s look at some examples:
- Omar loves to “banter” and is very confident, regularly laughing and joking with the team. Gwen is very clumsy and is often the butt of his jokes. Everyone in the office finds this really funny and they have no idea that Gwen goes home in tears regularly because of this.
- Jennifer doesn’t invite Sally to the team lunch. She is the only person not invited.
- Howard loves to make the office laugh playing practical jokes on everyone. Rakesh gets annoyed and challenges Howard, who then finds it funny to impersonate Rakesh’s accent.
- Anika’s manager doesn’t put her name forward for training, even though she is performing well in her role.
Which of these examples are considered workplace bullying?
The answer is potentially all of them.
Whilst there were no physical altercations, wounds left from being pushed over in the playground, or even the malicious intention of a group of catty girls wanting to cause hurt, bullying can be defined as any behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended.
Here, it is important to highlight the distinction between bullying and harassment. Bullying itself is not against the law unless it relates to a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, such as gender or race. This is when it would become harassment which is unlawful and an individual would potentially have recourse in an Employment Tribunal.
So what can you do when you find yourself the victim of workplace bullying or a witness to it?
Tips to help you through
- Don’t just accept it
Approximately a third of your life is spent at work, which is way too much time to not be happy there. If there is something making you upset or making you dread going to work, please do something about it.
Although not illegal, most companies will reference bullying behaviour in their disciplinary policies as [gross] misconduct, sending the message that IT IS NOT OK.
- Speak up for yourself
If you feel able to, the best approach is to address it directly with the individual in question. This can help clear up little misunderstandings or trivial matters without blowing it out of proportion. Don’t forget, you are likely to have to work with them in the future and therefore resolving issues as painlessly as possible is helpful.
If this is not possible, you should raise it with your line manager, a member of management or the HR team – these people are in a position that can do something about it, but can’t if they don’t know how you feel. Although this can seem intimidating, don’t forget that these people are human too and may well have been through something similar themselves in the past. Approach them by being factual on the events and clear about how this makes you feel.
If you don’t feel able to speak to anyone in the company, for whatever reason, your company may have a whistle-blowing programme which would enable you to make an anonymous complaint. A note of caution on this is that it is harder to do something about an anonymous bullying complaint as it prevents a meaningful investigation being undertaken. Wherever possible, be brave and speak up.
Some people are understandably reluctant to speak up if they feel it may be career limiting. However please rest assured there is legal protection if this happens to you in the form of a constructive dismissal claim, where you can argue that your employer has breached their implied contractual term of trust and confidence. For more information on this, ACAS (details below) are a great resource for advice and guidance.
- Look after yourself and know what support is out there
Your well-being is paramount and for lots of companies, mental health is at the top of the agenda. Consider what support your company can provide you and make sure you use it.
For example some Blue Chip companies have rolled out a programme of Mental Health First Aiders who are trained to be a first point of contact should you feel upset or unwell in anyway. In addition to this companies often have an Employee Assistance Programme, which offers free confidential counselling and advice for anyone who might need it.
Information on such things is normally available on the Company intra-net, from your line manager or the HR Team.
- Take the moral high ground
As a HR professional, there is nothing worse than having to get involved in a case of a situation which has been labelled as bullying, only to find out that the both parties are equally at fault. Do not lower yourself to the bully’s level – keep your head held high and following the advice in this article. This means that when anything is investigated or looked into, there is nothing which can put you at fault.
- Work for a company which shares your values
Clearly, not all companies will take bullying as seriously as they should, but if the company that you work for doesn’t, do you really want to work for them anyway?
Why not lead the way and support your organisation in reviewing or creating an anti-bullying policy? A lot can be said about a company by their core organisation values and approach and therefore check out a company carefully before deciding they are the one for you. Most companies will have their values statement available online, but if not, make sure you ask questions about their approach to diversity and inclusion, corporate social responsibility etc. in your interview. Don’t be afraid as most interviewers will be refreshed that you are taking a genuine interest.
- There is strength in diversity
With recent legislation on the gender pay gap, diversity and inclusion remains a hot topic for organisations. Furthermore, research strongly suggests that diverse teams get the best results and therefore your company has a great incentive to protect all their people. Be confident in your uniqueness and differences and don’t feel inferior because of them!
- Know your rights
Unfortunately, not all cases can be resolved using the informal approaches outlined above and therefore if you have exhausted all of these and still not got an appropriate resolution, or feel you have been put at a detriment for speaking up, you have the option of raising a formal grievance, whistle blowing (as above), or in the case of harassment raising an employment tribunal case.
For more detailed advice or guidance on this, ACAS are a great starting place.
Don’t be an accidental bully
The final point and one that our teachers and parents will all have hoped that we learnt at school, the easiest way for us to irradiate work place bullying is to each take individual responsibility for how we behave at work.
So my parting piece of advice is to take a minute to look in the mirror and think about how you treat others; could you ever be guilty of taking the joke too far, or bantering with someone you don’t know that well. Don’t be an accidental bully, take five and make sure you treat those around you how you would like to be treated in return.
Article courtesy of:
Laura Dentith, HR Professional