Bullying at Work

Bullying at work is a serious problem and can have very significant financial implications if not managed properly and expeditiously, particularly as it is a primary cause of work related stress.

Workplace bullying is defined as:

Repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons by one or more perpetrators.

Bullies can exist within an organisation in any conceivable role, from ‘ground-level’ employees all the way through to the CEO and may come from any socio-economic background.

The more senior the bully, the more serious the problem is for the organisation.

Bullying at Work - Manager shouting aggressively at young worker

Workplace bullying may exist or persist for a number of different reasons:-

  • As the result of a persons personal upbringing and early developmental experiences where violence was normalised.
  • If perpetrated by a manager in the business, it may perhaps be ‘condoned’ as an effective management strategy by upper management.
  • Because the internal mechanisms for dealing with bullying in the workplace do not exist or do not function properly

Whatever the reasons may be, it is the organisation’s legal duty of care to manage it effectively.

Early Developmental Experiences

Unless you specifically screen your employees for their early developmental personality traits then it is highly unlikely that you will even be aware of their internal beliefs that ‘bullying’ is an acceptable and productive method of getting another person to carry out an activity.

Any child who has grown up in an environment in which problem resolution was largely sought through violent means (ranging from being smacked to being physically beaten with ‘the belt’ for example) are more likely to regard this type of behaviour as normal and to some extent, acceptable.

This normalisation of behaviours can become ‘ingrained’ in the form of core beliefs in which the perceptual models of ‘how the world works’ form the basis for evaluation of everyday events such as ‘argumentative staff’.

Victims of parental bullying are much more likely to regard bullying as character-building rather than totally unacceptable and thus see their behaviour as OK and justifiable.

‘Authorisation’ of Bullying at Work

Privately owned businesses (for example) may be under the belief that shouting and haranguing staff members is an effective way of ‘getting the job done’, usually under the premise that ‘it didn’t do me any harm when I was an apprentice’ or such like.

Unless challenged directly, these types of behaviours can not only seem effective, but also completely acceptable based on the owners own experience.

Failure to Manage Workplace Bullying

In order to illustrate the seriousness of a failure to effectively deal with bullying at work problems, it may be useful to consider a case that was successfully prosecuted, under the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

In 2006 a judge found that Deutsche Bank was guilty of failing to stop one of their employees, Julie Green, being bullied at work.

Her work colleagues bullied her in the following ways:

  • Hid her post.
  • Laughed at her frequently.
  • Made lewd comments when she walked past them.

Certainly, many people might consider these as rather ‘minor’ infractions, as indeed did her colleagues, but when Julie complained about the problem and nothing at all was done to re-dress these behaviours.

As a result, Julie went off work with serious depression.

The courts decided it was serious enough a failing that she was awarded £828,000 in compensation!

Whilst Deutsche could undoubtedly afford this payment, a great many businesses would find a fine of this scale potentially catastrophic.

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