Workplace bullying is being swept under the carpet

BullyingA quarter of employees think challenging issues like workplace bullying and harassment are swept under the carpet in their organisation, a new report from the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, claims.

The report is based on two large-scale surveys, one of employers and one of more than 2,000 employees. It shows that 15 percent of respondents have experienced workplace bullying in the last three years, while 4 percent say they’ve been sexually harassed at work and 8 percent have experienced other forms of harassment.

More than half of people who have been bullied or harassed in the last three years did not report the latest incident. “Fear is the biggest factor”, one employee told researchers. “You’re singled out when something happens to you and it’s having the strength and confidence to see what can be a long and tiresome process through to the end.”

The report highlights that line managers can be both the source of the problem and its solution. Four in 10 of those who have been bullied or harassed say their manager was responsible, while a third of employers said one of the top barriers to effective conflict management is that managers don’t have the confidence to challenge inappropriate behaviour.

Only two fifths of line managers say they have had people management training, leading the CIPD to urge organisations to train them properly, including in how to prevent and tackle conflict.


“Wake-up call”

Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said: “Managers should be important role models, set expectations of behaviour around dignity and respect, and gain the trust of their team.

“The number of managers who are being blamed for harassment and bullying should serve as a wake-up call to employers to put training managers at the heart of efforts to prevent inappropriate workplace behaviour.

“Our research shows that managers who’ve received training can help to stop conflict from occurring and are much better at fostering healthy relationships in their team. And when conflict does occur, they can help to resolve the issue more quickly and effectively.”

The report does find evidence that recent sexual harassment scandals and the #MeToo movement have had a positive impact. For example, a third of workers say they are more confident challenging sexual harassment than they were two years ago.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]A third of workers say they are more confident challenging sexual harassment than they were two years ago.[/perfectpullquote]


Key actions for employers

In response to the findings, the CIPD is calling for employers to:

  • Encourage a speak-up culture, with a clear, well publicised complaints procedure, so staff know how to raise concerns and who to turn to if their manager is the instigator.
  • Be aware that there could be times when it’s appropriate to try and resolve the issue informally first, given that workplace bullying and harassment can cover a wide spectrum of behaviour that may, in some cases, be unintentional.
  • Increase investment in people management training for managers and provide them with specific training to help them prevent and manage conflict at work, such as by having difficult conversations.


Research findings

As part of its research, the CIPD also conducted an online focus group with those who have experienced workplace bullying and harassment to understand its impact better. As well as knocking their self-confidence irreversibly, some people said they suffered from stress, anxiety, insomnia, heart palpitations and suicidal thoughts.

“I had to have anti-depressants and counselling. I still can’t go to the town where I worked because of panic attacks”, one employee said.

Further findings show:

  • One in 10 people report being bullied or harassed via email or social media, and/or by phone or text.
  • The three most common forms of workplace bullying and harassment were being undermined or humiliated in the job, receiving persistent unwarranted criticism and getting unwanted personal remarks.

Alongside the report, the CIPD has produced a new guide for people managers on how they can best manage conflict in their teams.

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