Workplace Bullying

It’s Anti-Bullying Week this week and, with a growing body of evidence suggesting that bullying in childhood can stay with people throughout their adult lives, employers should be using the opportunity to reflect on the support they offer (positively) to victims of bullying or (negatively) to those who instigate or thrive on a bullying culture, and the impact this can have on employee health and wellbeing.

Employee health and wellbeing – being proactive about stamping out bullying

This week (12-16 November) is Anti-Bullying Week, the annual event run by the Anti-Bullying Alliance to highlight bullying and how to tackle it. Although primarily a calendar event aimed at schools, there are important lessons that can be learnt for the workplace.

This year’s event is based around the theme of “Choose Respect”, although there will also be a focus on the scourge of cyber bullying, a particular worry of course in terms of the mental health of many of our young people (our future employees).

But it should also be a worry for employers. Why? Because there is a growing body of evidence to suggest (perhaps, not that surprisingly) that bullying at school can have a knock-on effect throughout your adult life, including your adult working life.

And this is, of course, before we even factor in the potentially corrosive effect, and cost, of bullying within the workplace.

Cost of bullying and harassment

Just to pick up a few recent pieces of research, it has been estimated that bullying and harassment in the NHS costs the service more than £2bn a year in England alone. There was in October the public, legal and political furore of Sir Philip Green being named in Parliament over multiple sexual harassment and bullying allegations. And the House of Commons itself was also in October wrestling with a swirl of questions around bullying and sexual harassment.

What, then, can employers do about all this?

Clearly, if you have an organisational culture that protects, or even encourages, aggressive, bullying or harassing behaviour, tackling that is going to be a management and HR issue as much as a health and wellbeing one.

Practical support

But there is also much you can do as an employer to support employee health and wellbeing in this context, as Dr Lucy Wright, Chief Medical Officer at Optima Health, highlights.

“The old adage ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me’ is, in many respects, plain wrong these days. It is increasingly clear, especially in our modern, social media-connected world, that bullying words and behaviours, whether digital or face-to-face, can be deeply damaging, both in childhood and adult life.

“Employers need to be stamping out bullying, and supporting victims, not just from a duty of care perspective, but because it is well-recognised that happier, inclusive, more consensual workplaces and working practices create more engaged and productive workforces.

“There are practical things employers can do and offer. Resilience training and support, well-communicated and enforced ‘zero tolerance’ policies, modelling of positive behaviours by senior people can all make a difference, for example.

“Alongside this, offering access to EAPs and counselling can be valuable, both for victims of bullying and in terms of providing best practice advice to managers. Giving your people a safe, confidential space to talk about historic or more recent bullying or harassment can be a practical and effective support but also send a clear and strong message that bullying and harassment is unacceptable within your organisation,” she says.