Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, at the workplace or otherwise and if you are being bullied or harassed at work, this should not be tolerated by anyone. It can be difficult as an adult to deal with a bully, to admit it is happening and indeed recognise it at all. This article outlines some practical advice if you find yourself in this situation, what your rights are and what the responsibilities of your employer are.
What is bullying and harassment?
The terms bullying and harassment are often used and interchanged; however bullying is usually defined as offensive, insulting or malicious behaviour which is meant to undermine or intimidate the individual (or group) to whom it is aimed. Harassment on the other hand is unwanted conduct which can affect the dignity of an individual. This can be directed towards a person’s gender, sexuality, age, race, nationality or any other personal characteristic. The effect is demeaning to and unwanted by the individual (or group) and can cause feelings of embarrassment, anxiety or humiliation. Stress, anger and a drop in work performance are sometimes noted as the person or persons struggle to cope. Some people may try to retaliate to the actions of the bully or harasser.
Either forms of behaviour can be performed or received by groups or individuals. And may or may not be demonstrated by a person in a position of power or seniority. It may be a one off incident or a series of incidents.
Incidents of bullying or harassment do not solely take place face to face but can also be communicated via email, writing or over the telephone.
What action to take.
If you think you are being bullied or harassed, the first course of action is to talk it over with someone you can trust. This may be a friend or relative, inside or outside of work. Sometimes, what appears to be bullying may not be, so use your friend as a ‘sounding board’. If you still feel that you are being bullied or harassed, it is a good idea to keep a diary of times, dates and places of the occurrences. It is also wise to keep any related documents such as emails.
Who to speak to
Employers have a responsibility and duty of care to make sure that everyone in their employment does not suffer from harassment or bullying. A good employer will ensure that all their members of staff are aware of this and that it will not be tolerated in the workplace.
In some cases, speaking to the bully or harasser directly has the desired effect. Sometimes, they are not even aware that their behaviour was causing offence or upset and they may cease the conduct. Work out what you are going to say before you start the conversation or if it is not something you feel you can do yourself, ask a colleague or your manager. If this does not work, further advice and support is available from many sources. Many employers (especially larger companies) have trained people within HR or a counselling service that should be able to help, or if you are part of a trade union, contact your representative for free impartial advice. If the issues cannot be resolved informally, then formal action may need to be taken and your companies’ grievance procedure activated. Ideally, the problem should be resolved before it gets to this stage to save stress on all concerned, but if it is not then the grievance procedure will need to be followed. It is worth remembering that dealing with this sort of behaviour can cause a great deal of strain on your mental and physical health so if you are feeling ill or stressed as a result of the bullying or harassment, see your doctor immediately and do not let the problem snowball any more than it has to.
Help and support is available, and it is a difficult first step to take to realise and admit there are issues at work like this, but with the correct guidance it can be drawn to a conclusion.