Bullying and harassment was a hot topic pre-pandemic and now research is showing a rise in the number of cases as employees return to the workplace, alongside a new wave of hybrid bullying.
Bullying and harassment is a behaviour that makes people feel intimidated or offended and harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. Bullying is often long-term small comments or actions, that chips away at people. It can impact people in many ways, some would be upset, others angry, some avoid confrontation, and others may lose their confidence in their role in the workplace. This then in turn leads to the employer believing that there are performance concerns as the employee doesn’t seem capable to do their job.
Louise Kennedy, Managing Director at Oculus HR said,
“As we see a return to the workplace, alongside this we’ve also seen an influx of cases around bullying, harassment, and intimation. In a recent case, the employees all described themselves as being in an abusive relationship with the bully, to listen to a team describe this is heart breaking.
It is vital that employers take the right action to protect their employees to ensure they are safe in the workplace at all times, and it is equally of paramount importance that employees feel they can be at work without repercussions from speaking about their situation.”
It is of essence that the employer investigates complaints made, appropriate time should be made to do this to ensure employees know the situation has been taken seriously. Finally, investigate fully with the right people, ask all the questions you need too. The key message is to keep communicating to the employees who have raised the concerns, offer help and support and be proactive.
“We see people with medical concerns, anxiety, depression, and stress, unable to come into the workplace. They go on to long term sick as they don’t know how to handle the situation. Those that stay at work also don’t know how to handle circumstances that arise, this can be very difficult, especially if the situation has not been reported to anyone.
Proactivity is key. Employers need to encourage open and honest communication with people who are safe sounding boards for employees to speak too. On occasions employees will express their concerns about being bullied, harassed, or intimated at work, the employer may not consider it to be bullying – this is their opinion. However, what matters is how the person has been made to feel because of the actions, it is then for the employer to investigate fully to gather the facts.”
Over the years risk assessments for health and safety have been imbedded within companies to ensure high standards, safety and productivity, this needs to be the same around the topic of bullying and harassment. Employers need to ensure that the appropriate policies are in place to support anyone experiencing these concerns around bullying and harassment such as having an Equality and Diversity Policy, Disciplinary Policy and a Grievance Policy.
Changes in workplace working patterns has also seen a wave of hybrid bullying cases over the months.
“With hybrid working the new norm, this environment also has the capacity to breed bullying. There are more opportunities for employees to be isolated from the team and to be excluded from decision making and even virtual team chats. Again, communication is key, and mechanisms need to be in place for remote workers to voice concerns as they would when in the physical workplace environment.”
Not only can bullying, harassment and intimation in the workplace have a determinantal impact on employees and their well-being, but there are also the long-standing implications for businesses who don’t take action. Once word gets out about a toxic workplace and how a company has tolerated bullying, the businesses reputation and profile can be severely damaged, the direct result is that employers will have a hard time keeping and attracting employees.
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