We are all used to a bit of banter in the office, but it becomes a completely different matter when banter turns into something as serious as bullying. Bullying and harassment in the workplace have always been issues that have been played down to a certain extent, but recent studies by work unions have indicated that instances have almost doubled over the past ten years.
Stereotypically, it is women bullying other women that gets the most attention in terms of the subject. But in fact it has come to light that 32% of all cases of bullying involve a male victim and a male bully, which is a slightly higher rate than that of the stereotype mentioned above. Surprisingly, 28% of cases also involve men bullying women in the workplace, whilst only 11% involve women harassing male colleagues. One other stereotype that appears to be true is that male bullies are more likely to be brash and noisy, whereas female bullies will victimise their prey in a more subtle way. So why has it all escalated over the last decade and what can be done to resolve this problem?
Harassment and bullying are things that should not be taken lightly by employers or employees. The effects of bullying in the workplace are detrimental not only to the health and well-being of the victim but also to the company as a whole. For example, it is estimated that £13.75 billion is currently lost annually when staff are absent from work due to harassment and bullying. It seems employees who are victimised feel that by making a complaint they risk being branded a troublemaker or someone who is too sensitive. This makes it easier to just stay off work with some excuse, which goes no way towards resolving the issue or keeping the productivity of the company on an even keel.
Particularly during a recession, it is extremely difficult for those being bullied to stand up and be counted. With so many people already unemployed at this time, victims are fearful about losing their jobs and trying to find another one in such a fragile environment. With more competition for jobs and the worry of being sacked for speaking out against being bullied in the workplace, many people are left to suffer in silence.
So, what constitutes bullying and harassment? Well, there are grey areas when it comes to the definition of bullying, but essentially it is any action that makes the victim feel humiliated, offended, undermined or threatened. Harassment relates to unwanted conduct by the bully in terms of race, religion, sex, age or individual characteristics, for example. It is not always face-to-face that bullying or harassment occurs, either. Malicious emails or phone calls or intimidation whilst monitoring a victim’s work can be classed as forms of bullying.
Carrying out bullying and harassment is all to do with power and control. As mentioned, it is something that has existed in the workplace for years and it is fair to say that it will probably never be stamped out totally. People who have the drive and are trying to reach the top will step on anyone they can to get there. Power struggles and bullying do not occur just between employees and management, but the majority of cases reflect that this is usually the case. A managerial position allows an amount of power over a non-managerial position, which can lead to practices that involve fear and intimidation. The victim is often left feeling like a nuisance, low in confidence and without the fight to put an end to the bullying. This, as well as a combination of not knowing the laws, procedures and policies when it comes to harassment, means that the bully is left to carry on.
In terms of legislation there are several laws that can help when someone is being bullied or harassed in the workplace. This applies if the situation relates to age (Employment Equality [Age] Act 2006), disability (Disability Discrimination Act 1995), religion or beliefs (Employment Equality [Religion or Belief] Regulations 2003), race (Race Relations Act 1976), sex or sexual harassment (Sexual Discrimination Act 1975) and sexual orientation (Employment Equality [Sexual Orientation] Regulations 2003).
These laws are available to help victims to lodge a direct complaint to an employment tribunal in the case of them being harassed or bullied. At the moment there is no specific, all-round law to deal with all instances of bullying and harassment, but it is to be hoped that this avenue will be seriously considered in the future. With the revelation that victimisation in the workplace is on the increase, it is apparent that something needs to be in situ for the longer term to make it easier and safer for victims to confront the situation – and to nip bullying in the workplace in the bud.