Bullying in the Workplace – What HR Can Do

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bullying in the workplace
Photo Credits - Kaitlyn Baker via Unsplash

Being comfortable at work and having support are some of the basic things that employees deserve. Unfortunately for some, this is not the case due to bullying in the workplace. When talking about bullying, we often think back to school years and not so much in adulthood. However, there is a need for greater awareness of bullying in the workplace as, according to a survey by SME Loans, 23% of UK employees feel bullied at work. This should be a matter taken seriously by employers as it may have adverse and long-term effects – to employees as well as the organisation. In any organisation, HR should be the point of contact for this matter and provide support for employees in need.

Bullying – What does it look like in the workplace?

Bullying and harassment are defined by the UK Government as behaviours that cause feelings of intimidation and offensiveness. These behaviours can be in different forms – verbal, physical or online. Although making a legal claim on bullying directly is not possible, behaviours that are related to the protected characteristics within Equality Act 2010 count as harassment – therefore is against the law.

Within the workplace, these are some examples of bullying:

  • Spreading of malicious rumours
  • Constant picking on
  • Overloading of work assignments
  • Regular threatening of firing
  • Unfair treatment
  • Humiliation in front of colleagues

READ: Boss Who Wanted “Slim” Workers Slapped with Harassment Suit After Calling Office Assistant “Fatty”

Bullying should be taken seriously and approached appropriately to avoid adverse and long-term effects from happening. Struggling with these repercussions can significantly reduce well-being, mental health and productivity at work.

The impact of bullying on employees can include:

  • Lowered psychological well-being causing poor mental health
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Having trouble with sleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Stomach issues
  • Increased sickness absences
  • Withdrawal
  • Low self-confidence
  • Burnout due to stress and fear

HR should act when any sign of bullying starts to show. However, there are also things that can be done as preventative measures to avoid bullying to happen in the first place.

Things HR Can Do to Prevent and Address Workplace Bullying

  • Implementing Anti-Bullying Policies with a Zero-Tolerance Culture

As a standard, every workplace should have a set of policies within an employee handbook. Within these policies, there should be a focus on anti-bullying to solidify the organisation’s stance on a zero-tolerance culture. HR should be responsible for educating employees on these policies by explaining what is unacceptable. Having these policies in place demonstrates a commitment to upholding the company’s values to ensure employee well-being.

READ: HR Priorities – What to Focus on in 2023

  • Regular Training and Socialising

With policies in place, HR is then responsible for the education and upholding of these policies. Regular anti-bullying training should be provided for the employees, not only to be aware of bullying and its adverse effects – but also to know when to spot it when it’s happening to someone else. Having the entire community aware of the signs of bullying can contribute to a more harmonious environment which encourages peer support.

  • Creating a Safe Space for Employees

When issues do arise in the workplace, HR should be the designated point where employees feel safe to seek support and guidance. In the case of bullying, it is even more detrimental to have as the employee would have not felt safe anywhere else. HR should always be open to one-on-one conversations with employees to sort out issues with workplace bullying.

  • Providing Counselling and Rehabilitation

We know that bullying can cause poor mental and physical health, this is also noted in the Bullying at work review amongst other reports. Conditions such as anxiety, depression and PTSD may come as an effect of bullying in the workplace. HR should arrange appropriate support in the form of counselling and rehabilitation when needed. Often, bullying stems from a deeper issue where counselling is necessary to address it completely.

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