Recent statistics on the prevalence of workplace bullying are alarming. A 2020 study by Employment Law specialist Kew Law found that 71% of people surveyed had either witnessed or been a victim themselves of workplace bullying.
While a study conducted by the CIPD found that 40% of those who had come forward as being bullied, sited their manager as being responsible for the bullying. Seemingly linked, only 40% of line managers surveyed have had any people management training whatsoever.
The subject of bullying is highly pertinent at the moment with last week being Anti-Bullying week 2020 in the UK. This high-profile movement resulted in 75% of UK schools taking part in raising awareness of this important subject.
So, what can we do in the workplace to tackle this important topic and why is this even more important with the move to remote working?
Bullying and the remote working life
Bullying comes in many guises. It can be overt or subtle. Repeated, or a one-off and it can be done via any form of communication.
The traditional characteristics of bullying include behaviour such as insulting, offensive or humiliating language and workplace bullying often includes more subtle actions such as being gossiped about or having your work sabotaged.
In the current environment where most of us are working remotely, the potential of Cyber-bulling within the workplace is increasing. This may contain more subtle forms of bullying such as being excluded from meetings, discussions or being ignored or minimised on virtual calls. However, it can also involve incessant and intimidating after hours text messages or being mocked on group SLACK messages.
“Workplace bullying is psychological violence,” says Lynne Curry, author of Beating the Workplace Bully: A Tactical Guide to Taking Charge.
Whatever it’s form, bullying can significantly damage the victim’s self-esteem and can leave them feeling vulnerable, isolated and anxious. Cyber-bullying can actually have a greater impact because it filters through to the victim’s personal time and space. The victim being physically distanced from the rest of the workforce may find it even harder to reach out for help.
Even in it’s most understated form, at a time when we are working remotely and social interactions have already been reduced, being intentionally excluded and isolated from your work colleagues can have a devastating impact on victims’ emotional and mental health.
Positive steps against workplace bullying
What can we do as employers in the world of work to powerfully foster an anti-bullying culture in our organisations?
The Company culture sets the framework of behaviour and values from the top down. It is therefore key for the leadership team to consider the organisation’s core values that relate to their people.
If an organisation publicly and expressly stands by values such as: Openness, Honesty, Respect and Inclusion, they can then begin to extend those values across the entire organisation. The leaders of the business can set clear expectations of what those values look like in terms of behaviour within the company culture and ultimately express its duty of care to its people.
Also important is their ability to lead by example and foster an approach of openness and respectful behaviour to their teams.
When an organisation can be overt and sincere about the complaints procedures it has in place to tackle workplace bullying, it immediately removes the stigma and fear that is often a block for victims to come forward to report incidents. This should include having a clear Zero Tolerance policy that is openly and frequently discussed across all levels of the organisation.
The key here is for organisations to apply their complaints procedure and policies consistently and fairly. This will set clear precedence that the behaviour is not tolerated, and this will grant further authority and respect to the work being done against bullying behaviour.
People management Training
As the statistics above show, organisations on the whole, are not providing enough training for people in management roles. People management is not always straightforward and especially new managers may find themselves exposed to pressures and interactions that they do not know how to handle.
People management training will build self-confidence and furnish managers with the framework to handle interactions and conflicts. It also creates a methodology of clear performance management and feedback systems that expressly IMPROVE morale and culture across the organisation.
Some organisations may choose to go further and invest in specific Bullying and Harassment training courses for their teams.
Open door policy
How open and accessible are the senior leaders of your organisation? An open-door policy, in particular set by senior management teams, encourages honest and courageous communication across all levels.
In terms of anti-bullying, it is a strong deterrent against unacceptable behaviour as it deters against the concealment and shame of bullying behaviour. It therefore enables incidents of bullying to surface early, preventing escalation.
Traditionally used in the Armed Forces and within schools, the Buddy system has become a more recent addition to many organisational workplace environments since the move to remote working.
A buddy system, simply put, ‘buddies’ you up with a colleague that you may not have very much ‘day to day’ interaction with (so ideally, not your manager or direct team members). It creates a relationship of mutual support, openness and trust.
Ultimately, this creates a relationship that enables any cyber or other bullying to be brought to light. It also creates an open line of support which would be very helpful in instances where the line manager is the perpetrator of the bullying behaviour.
The buddy system can also be especially useful for new team members joining an organisation during times of remote working. It enables more substantial and personal relationships to be built at a time when many new joiners feel vulnerable and lonely.
About the author
Antonia Smith is the founder of Dragonfly Coaching and Consulting, providing Leadership and Business coaching to SME’s and individuals. Prior to her Coaching career, Antonia was a Finance Director within the Retail and Hospitality sectors and she still retains an element of consulting work in her current working life. Antonia is passionate about people management and helping to create a work culture where individuals and teams can thrive through a holistic development approach, led by strong and authentic leaders.