Navigating bullying in the workplace
Recent research conducted by CIPD has revealed some sobering statistics: 15% of employees in the UK have endured bullying within the past three years. This translates to approximately 4.9 million workers.
What’s even more concerning is the estimation that a significant 53% of those subjected to such behaviour choose to suffer in silence and do not report these incidents.
This shows there are many toxic organisational cultures out there, and even with the media reporting on some high-profile individuals or organisations acting inappropriately, the problem is unfortunately not isolated to what we see and hear in the press. It is much more prevalent than we think. In fact, the media coverage is only the tip of the iceberg with what’s really happening in the workplace.
By its nature, the subject of bullying can be fiendishly tricky to navigate and what one individual may perceive as innocent banter, another may interpret as hurtful bullying.
One could also argue that the Department of Education’s definition of bullying is subjective:
‘Unwanted aggressive behaviour that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and is repeated or has the potential to be repeated over time.’
The good news is the problem is finally being recognised, with a new ‘Bullying and Respect at Work’ Bill defining a new legal definition of bullying. This was introduced to the House of Commons on the 11th July 2023 by Rachael Maskell MP. When passed, the Bill will have a positive impact on prevention, management and more effective behaviours in the workplace through the legal obligations of employers to ensure those behaviours are complied with.
Read more here.
The vital importance of values
One of the conditions where bullying can take root is a lack of organisational values (or there are some, but they are only ‘on the wall’ i.e. not embedded and so pretty meaningless).
Values help create shared understanding of what behaviours are desired and acceptable and which aren’t. Without this shared understanding it can be incredibly hard to give feedback and hold people to account for their actions.
Any values need to be explicitly lived and role-modelled by leaders. Lack of or poor role-modelling creates cynicism and a culture of low trust and psychological safety, the perfect breeding ground for politics, blame, ‘in and out crowd’ and bullying.
So, what can we do about this problem?
How can we make sure our organisational culture supports and recognises the right behaviours?
When bullying does occur do we make sure the root causes are dealt with, learning is shared, and changes are made?
There are many influences that need to work in concert, starting with leadership and taking in education and training, behaviour frameworks, policies, communication, psychological safety and trust and having an effective non-judgemental process for reporting any incidences or concerns.
If you are wondering how effectively your organisation is tackling bullying, ask yourself these questions:
- Does your organisation have a framework for creating a non-bullying environment and way of addressing it?
- Do your organisational values help shape behaviour and build trust?
- Is there any bullying taking place? How do you know? Are your leaders confident to address issues?
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Andy is a culture change expert with over 30 years of experience. Andy specialises in helping organisations achieve a positive workplace culture, using a range of tools and services.
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