Third of people say they have been bullied at work

According to a new study from employment law firm Kew Law a third of people claim to have been bullied at work in the last three years and nearly three quarters say they have either been bullied themselves or witnessed a colleague being bullied. According to the survey of employees of 131 companies in the UK, most of the instances involved unfair treatment, overwork and general undermining of an individual.

When broken down into demographics, the figures show a general decrease in the likelihood of bullying as age increases – with only 23 percent of 45-54 year olds saying they have experienced bullying, compared with 44 percent of 21-24 year olds. In addition, 40 percent of female respondents said they had been bullied, compared with 31 percent of male respondents. 67 percent of employees at director level had been bullied, making them the most likely category to be targeted.

Of those who had been bullied, 60 percent were bullied to the extent that their productivity was affected, they took time off work, or they even left the company. 13 percent resigned altogether, while 28 percent took leave, and 15 percent took unpaid leave, as a result of the bullying. This shows not only that bullying seriously impacts an individual’s ability to do their job, and in turn affects the productivity of the wider business, but that companies are not doing enough to keep bullied employees in the office, in either the short or long term.

The most common forms of bullying in the workplace reported were:

  • Overloading with work (27 percent)
  • Unfair treatment (20 percent)
  • Picking on or regularly undermining someone (18 percent)
  • Spreading malicious rumours (16 percent)
  • Excluding and ignoring someone’s contribution (16 percent)
  • Denying someone’s training or promotion opportunities (7 percent)

These align closely with the government’s definitions of bullying in the workplace, the report claims.

The need for some HR departments to improve how they handle cases of workplace bullying is also highlighted by the survey. 22 percent of respondents said the bullying was not dealt with despite raising it with HR, and only 11 percent of respondents felt that the situation then improved after doing so.


Step changes

35 percent of respondents who have been bullied in the workplace said that a greater amount of confidentiality should have been upheld throughout the handling of the issue. 26 percent felt that better communication was needed from the company on what constitutes unacceptable behaviour in the workplace.

In addition, while 13 percent left their jobs because of bullying, a mere 4 percent raised the issue with HR before doing so. Given the very real impact of workplace bullying on long-term mental health, these figures suggest that not only do HR departments need to overhaul their grievance procedures, but make themselves much more approachable too.

The survey also attempted to find out how companies can improve their response to bullying. Up to 46 percent of employees surveyed said they would not report bullying behaviour with either the HR department or senior management, and 33 percent would rather take it up with the bully directly than raise it with HR. This shows that bullying is not taken seriously enough in the eyes of employees, and that HR teams should better encourage the reporting of bullying behaviour when it is observed.

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