LET’S TALK ABOUT BULLYING: The Mental Health Cost of Workplace Bullying
Unfortunately, other human beings can often be the trigger for mental health problems and sometimes even the cause. Many have suffered at the hands of workplace bullies and sometimes this kind of undermining and confidence-destroying behaviour can result in serious mental health illnesses and more often than not leads to the victim resigning from the workplace (especially if the issue is not dealt with appropriately). It is impossible to promote a sense of wellbeing within a business if individuals in the top leadership team display bullying behaviour. No amount of mindfulness programmes will solve this issue.
We should all have the right to be treated with respect and dignity in the workplace and no one should be subject to bullying or harassment. Sadly, this kind of behaviour is present equally in big corporations as well as small businesses and when you start to explore the issue, the scale of the problem can seem disheartening…
What constitutes as bullying?
Bullying can be characterised as; offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate denigrate or injure the recipient. It may be obvious or it may be insidious. There are often very blurred lines between what is deemed as ‘banter’ and bullying, especially evident in very ‘macho’ workplace cultures. There is nothing wrong with gentle banter if the person on the receiving end isn’t offended by it. But when the ‘joke’ causes offence, it strays into the realm of bullying. We all individually need to be responsible for our own behaviour, how that affects others and when we are crossing the line.
Empathy + self-awareness
These are two elements that are usually lacking in bullies. They have little empathy for others and/or have low self-awareness so are not aware of the effect of their behaviour on those around them, or even that their actions constitute as bullying. Luckily these are both trainable skills and if you notice your managers are lacking in these areas, there are coaching or training programmes you can put them through. Increasing their emotional intelligence is key and there is countless evidence to display that emotionally intelligent leaders are more successful and retain staff for longer, so it’s in the business’s interest to address the issue. Extreme stress often brings out the worst in people and can make us behave in ways we normally wouldn’t. So if you work in a high-stress environment, your staff could be even more susceptible to bullying behaviour. Again, there is work you can do here in stress management.
The media attention surrounding individuals in the show business industry recently has been a big first step in holding those accountable, but really it’s just the tip of the ice-burg. What about the hard-working PA being insulted and humiliated on a daily basis? Or the accountant who also happens to be a mother and is being pushed out of the workplace? The scale of the problem is so vast, which is why we need to create so much more awareness around the issue and hold those responsible accountable for their actions, wherever possible. If you are in a leadership position you should operate a zero-tolerance approach to bullying within your team or organisation; it needs to be stamped out early and the individuals responsible should be made aware of the seriousness of the situation. Otherwise you run the risk of propagating a toxic workplace culture.
Are you an enabler?
Whilst you may not be guilty of bullying behaviour, are you enabling others to bully?
Turning a blind eye to workplace bullying is contributing to the problem, as is not taking the necessary steps to stamp it out. If you see workplace bullying taking place, be brave and approach the issue head on.
When the bully is the CEO
This is an extremely common scenario that even a good HR team will struggle to combat. When it is the business owner or CEO/MD carrying out the bullying, it often feels like there is no-where to turn and the case is hopeless. Sadly, most employees eventually end up leaving as putting up with this inhumane behaviour can perpetuate it and you could be causing yourself further distress.
If this has happened to you, log everything that is said and keep any emails or written material that you think constitutes as bullying. You should also keep any records of you trying to resolve the problem. If you feel you have a case for a tribunal this is worth taking forward with an employment lawyer, who should be able to tell you fairly quickly whether you have a case or not. If you have no success resolving the issue internally ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation & Arbitration Service) have a helpline that offers free and impartial advice. There is also information and guidance on their website here.
If you know one of your suppliers has a bullying culture you can choose to vote with your feet and take your business elsewhere.
The official guidelines on bullying and harassment have been created by ACAS and this should be your first port of call when aiming to educate yourself and your staff on what these are. When employees are promoted to management level, they need to be made aware of these guidelines. It shouldn’t just be a document attached to an email or management pack which is never read, but an integral part of their management training. By building awareness around the guidelines, you are taking the first step in creating a bullying and harassment-free workplace.
We are all responsible for making sure all employees are working in an environment that embodies respect, dignity and openness. Let’s work to combat workplace bullying and end the tyranny that sadly reigns in many workplaces.
Luminate Consultancy Limited provide workshops, seminars and training programmes in wellbeing, leadership and team development.