Bullying in the workplace

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Workplaces in the south west are being urged to look at the way they deal with bullying after a new Acas study has revealed that workplace bullying is growing in Britain and many people are too afraid to speak up about it.

The Acas paper ‘Seeking better solutions: tackling bullying and ill-treatment in Britain’s workplaces’ looked at the latest research on workplace bullying as well as calls to the Acas helpline from employers and employees across the country.

Acas South West has dealt with around 2,100 calls related to bullying and harassment over the past year. Some callers reported that workplace bullying caused them to self-harm or consider suicide.

Acas South West Director, Tony Cooper, said: “Businesses in the south west should be taking workplace bullying very seriously as the annual economic impact of bullying-related absences, staff turnover and lost productivity is estimated to be almost £18 billion and our research reveals that bullying is increasing.

“It is advisable for south west workplaces to look again at how they deal with bullying. Our research reveals that it is more likely to be found in organisations that have poor workplace climates where this type of behaviour can become institutionalised.

“To help businesses tackle the problem, our report has a set of recommendations for good practice that South West employers may find useful to help prevent and deal with workplace bullying.”

Acas’ analysis showed that:

  • Representative surveys of workplaces, health and safety representatives and employees all show that workplace bullying and ill-treatment is growing in Britain; and
  • There are more incidences of bullying within certain groups such as public sector minority ethnic workers; women in traditionally male-dominated occupations; workers with disabilities or long-term health problems; lesbian, gay and bisexual and transgender people; and workers in health care.

Calls to the Acas helpline around bullying revealed:

  • Barriers to people making complaints such as the fear that trying to do something about unwanted behaviour might make the situation worse;
  • Ill-treatment from other staff often built up to the point where people dreaded going to work, their family and home life had been affected and many took leave to escape the workplace;
  • Inexperienced employers can feel they lack the skills to go through complex grievance and disciplinary procedures that bullying allegations may involve; and
  • Managers alerted to bullying allegations can favour simply moving staff around rather than investigating and dealing with underlying behaviours.

Recommendations from the report include:

  • Agree some behavioural standards;
  • Talk openly about your experience of being at work;
  • Create the right support network;
  • Promote the rights skills and levels of emotional intelligence; and
  • Make a clear distinction between strong leadership and what might be considered ill treatment.

To see the full research report and Acas’ guides for employers and employees on how to deal with bullying, please see: www.acas.org.uk/bullying