What should organisations do?
Unfortunately it is not always possible to prevent bullying from taking place. There are steps that an organisation can take to provide and promote a safe, healthy and fair environment for people to work in.
Whenever a case of bullying or harassment rises employers should take the opportunity to examine its policies, procedures and working methods to see if they can be improved.
If an organisation does not already have one it is sensible to consider framing a workplace policy on bullying and harassment. This will help to ensure that all employees are aware of what will not be tolerated, what may constitute bullying and harassment and the fact that bullying and harassment may be treated as a disciplinary offence.
It should be made clear to all staff that the policy applies to them whether they are on work premises or are working away from their base office.
The policy should also set out treatment by staff and by clients and customers that the organisation will not tolerate.
In addition, all organisations, large and small, should have policies and procedures for dealing with grievances and disciplinary matters. In particular, individuals should note who they can speak to if they have a work related problem and managers should be trained in all aspects of the organisation’s policies.
If an individual does raise allegations of bullying and harassment it would almost certainly be considered to be a grievance and should be dealt with in accordance with an employer's own policies.
Any complaint should be investigated promptly and objectively and taken seriously. Those investigating the claims of harassment should consider all of the circumstances including the fact that the perception of the complainant as harassment is often felt differently by different people.
Training should be given to all staff on what is and is not acceptable behaviour and this should be regularly updated.
Those who are in line management roles should also be trained on all policies including those relating to disciplinary and grievances. That training should cover not only how to deal with the individual accused but also how to deal with the complainant.
Training should include the fact that employees may be held personally liable for harassment and named as an individual party in discrimination proceedings in the Employment Tribunal.
Line managers should receive training on effective communication and managing performance and teams so that they are confident that they can communicate effectively with their team members and reduce the risk that constructive feedback is viewed to be bullying and or harassment.
Show a clear commitment
Senior individuals within the organisation should also be seen to set the right example and to adhere to the policy. The message should be that the organisation has a zero tolerance to any breaches of the policy.
All staff should feel confident that if they do raise a complaint it will be investigated in a confidential and sensitive way and without fear of reprisal. Staff should know that there is a supportive culture and that they have someone to speak to if they feel there is an issue.
As such an organisation should show its commitment to having a workplace culture of dignity and respect by having comprehensive policies in place and by acting upon complaints that are raised and taking appropriate action against those who don’t adhere to these where necessary.
Hold exit interviews with departing employees. This may be the only time that a person is prepared to discuss the behaviour of an individual. This would be particularly useful if your organisation has a high turnover of staff as that may indicate that there is a problem and perhaps that bullying and harassment has become a problem for the organisation.
Act upon any adverse feedback so as to prevent other individuals from feeling the same and the behaviour of the individual continuing or escalating.
This may assist an organisation, particularly larger organisations, in identifying if there are any issues within certain teams or departments that could be construed as being contrary to its values and/or policies.
Again, if there is any adverse feedback from the survey once it has been obtained it really should be acted upon. To obtain it and to then ignore it would send out the wrong message to an organisation's staff and even to its clients and customers if it became known it was being ignored.