How to Address Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying, unfortunately, is not just the reserve of the playground. It goes on in all walks of life, every day, and quite often is evident at work. Bullying in the workplace is an issue which is very important for employers to deal with as it can have an incredibly damaging effect on staff absence, staff turnover, productivity, team morale, and organisational reputation. But how do you know if there is bullying going on in your business and what should you do about it?
This article gives som clarification, from a legal perspective, on what is classed as bullying in the workplace and provides some tips on how to deal with it.

Performance management or bullying?

The line between performance management and bullying is often difficult to see for employers. Managers must make difficult decisions every day and are trusted by employers to address poor performance from their team. This can result in difficult conversations and may lead to some employees feeling that they are being victimised.
Poor management technique can also often be misconstrued as bullying. There may be no intention on the manager’s part, to cause harm with their behaviour, they may simply lack the training or experience to manage people effectively. If this is found to be the case, the manager in question should be trained and coached to improve their management technique and ensure they are managing in a way that is consistent with the company’s values.

What is classed as bullying in the workplace?

ACAS define bullying as ‘offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient’. In her recent article, which you can find here, Employment Law Solicitor, Gaynor Beckett, outlined some of the behaviours you as an employer should look out for:
• violent or intimidating behaviour
• humiliating people through unwelcome remarks, gossip, or jokes about people’s age, race, sexuality, appearance, or beliefs
• carrying out this behaviour through text messaging and social media
• making people look stupid by deliberately setting impossible tasks or deadlines
• making persistent and unwarranted criticism and undermining people’s integrity
• undervaluing another’s contribution or giving them meaningless tasks
• leaking or sharing a person’s confidential information
• deliberately withholding information from people, and isolating or excluding them
• becoming angry and shouting or crying and weeping whenever challenged

How to tackle bullying in the workplace

• Have a clear, robust and accessible policy covering bullying and harassment at work, that extends to work-related events outside the workplace.
• This policy should outline your organisation’s behaviour standards, state that bullying and harassment are unlawful, and will be treated as a disciplinary offence. It should also outline unacceptable behaviour, and reference disciplinary procedures. The ACAS Guide for Managers and Employers is a valuable guide for further information on policies.
• Produce and communicate an organisational statement to address expected standards of behaviour.
• Set a good example from the top down. Develop a consistent and preferred management style from senior managers and ensure this is communicated through the management chain.
• Encourage employees to challenge inappropriate behaviour and act on any evidence of bullying.
• Encourage those experiencing bullying to keep a record of incidents to avoid the ‘my word against yours’ situation, and provide evidence to back up their claim. They should raise their concerns with someone they feel comfortable talking to, their manager, another team member, union or staff representative, or their HR team.
• Deal promptly and fairly with employee complaints through clear grievance and disciplinary procedures.
• Take the complaint seriously and investigate it objectively and independently.
• Seek an informal resolution to the problem. Those involved may find this challenging but often a frank and open discussion, between the individuals and a neutral party, will enable issues to be raised in a safe environment so that behaviours can be changed.
• Where an informal resolution is not possible, the matter may become a disciplinary issue, and as such, should be dealt with formally. More information about disciplinary procedures can be found here.
Bullying is a damaging behaviour in the workplace. All your hard work, and expense, recruiting and nurturing talent to drive your business forward can be undone in an instant if that employee is managed poorly, or at worst, bullied. Address complaints promptly and ensure there are formal policies, and a consistent management culture from the top down, to communicate your expectations.
For advice on how to deal with bullying complaints in your organisation, or for support on mediation on managing the disciplinary procedure, we are always here to help. Contact us on 0330 555 1139 or by email at