This week is Anti-Bullying Week, a coordinated campaign in England and Wales organised by the Anti-Bullying Alliance that runs from the November 15-19th. With the theme of ‘One Kind Word’, the campaign focuses on educating both youth and adults on the impacts of bullying and harassment.
In the UK, a surprising one in four people have experienced some form of bullying or harassment at work. And, when they do occur, the negative effects of can be massive. Experiencing bullying or harassment has been shown to lower quality of life, decrease productivity and impact mental and physical health.
In support of Anti-Bullying Week 2021, Human Focus has put together this short guide on Bullying and Harassment to provide a clearer picture of what it is and what you should do, if it happens to you.
What are Bullying & Harassment
Bullying and harassment can be described as any unwanted behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated, or offended. As many of us are well aware, this type of behaviour can occur anywhere, including at home, in school, at work, or out in public.
Examples of bullying and harassment include obvious things such as spreading malicious rumours, insulting, ridiculing or demeaning someone. Other ways that it can occur include excluding someone from events, setting up someone to fail, or treating them unfairly.
It can occur online, via emails or instant messaging services or face to face. It can happen one-to-one or in a group setting.
All employers have a legal and moral duty to protect staff from bullying and harassment.
Harassment and bullying are terms that are often used interchangeably as both include the same unwanted behaviour. However, there is one significant difference, harassment is illegal.
The Equality Act 2010 lists nine characteristics that are protected under the law. These are:
- Gender reassignment
- Marriage and civil partnership
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Religion or belief
- Sexual orientation
Any degrading behaviour that targets someone else for any of these characteristics is considered harassment and against the law.
Along with the Equality Act 2010, the is a collection of legislation that also applies in cases of harassment. This includes the Sex Discrimination Act, the Race Relations Act, the Disability Discrimination Act and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, and the laws of common assault.
Bullying is also a form of aggression where there is a power imbalance but is not defined by characteristics of discrimination. Here the aggressor uses offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour to victimize the recipient.
So, for instance, if a colleague said something disparaging about your physical strength, it would be considered bullying, as bullying is not one of the nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. However, if a colleague said something disparaging about your age, it would be harassment and illegal.
What Should You Do If You are Bullied or Harassed?
If you feel bullied or harassed at work, first and foremost, it’s vital that you do something about it. Bullying and harassment can cause mental distress, which can impact your physical health. These problems, along with the unwanted behaviour, may only continue or get worse.
Moreover, if unacceptable behaviour is not challenged, it can easily become part of a culture and the more difficult to stop.
If a bulling or harassment incident takes place, you must start by consulting the company policy. It may give you specific guidance on how to proceed.
- Check Policy
This is the first step towards dealing a bully or harasser. Your workplace anti-bullying policy will contain all of the necessary guidance on how to formally or informally proceed with the issue, or any actions that you must take on the spot.
- Record Evidence
This will begin by recording evidence. You must keep a record on when the incident happened, where it took place, how it occurred, and who else was there witnessing it. This can be an email account, chat log, diary, or audio recordings stored on your smartphone.
- Get a Second Opinion
The next step is getting a second opinion. If you think you have been the target of bullying or harassment, do not keep it to yourself. Discuss it with someone you trust. Speaking with a friend, family, or a work colleague will likely make you feel better and give you a clearer understanding of what is happening.
- Talk to Your Manager
It is important that you bring the issue to a line-manager or supervisor, or a member of HR. If you feel you cannot speak to your manager – for instance, if they are involved in the bullying or harassment – find another manager or senior colleague.
Seek an Informal Resolution – If Possible
It is always better to seek an informal resolution with the person you are having difficulties with, if possible. In informal resolution, means that efforts are made to solve the issue without it being recorded, and without following formal procedures.
Informal resolutions are often best, because they offer the opportunity to potentially resolve the situation quickly and easily.
There are three ways to go about it:
- Speak to the Bully
In most cases, speaking with the person directly yourself to communicate that there is a problem is the best way to resolve the issue. Speaking to the person directly helps establish that this behaviour will not continue, and where you stand on it.
Here is what you need to make sure before approaching the bully for a conversation:
- Arrange for someone to come along for support if needed – for instance, a manager can still be there to support, if it makes you feel more comfortable
- Have a clear intention of what you want from the discussion
- Choose an appropriate time and place for the talk
You must also keep in mind to be firm but not aggressive, stay positive and calm, stick to the facts, and avoid using emotional or judgemental language. Be prepared to discuss what happened even if it is embarrassing and clearly state that you want the behaviour to stop because it causes you distress.
Leave when finished, and always keep a record of the discussion.
- Write the Bully or Harasser a Letter
If you do not want to talk to the bully or harasser, you can also send an email or letter. If you decide to write the bully or harasser, you should communicate exactly what the person did, when and where it happened, how it made you feel and that you want this behaviour to stop. You should also communicate that if it does not stop, you will use formal procedures.
- Using Mediation
You may also have the option of mediation to resolve bullying or harassment. In mediation a third party helps those involved in the problem find an agreeable solution.
Mediators can be internal, appointed from within the organisation, or externally hired.
If you are using mediation, remember:
- Mediation is voluntary for everyone involved
- The mediator does not take sides, but will do their best to assist you
- Mediation can be an excellent way to solve problems when you cannot reach an agreement on your own
In rare cases, where bullying and harassment cannot be resolved informally, then formal steps are required. Formal procedures can have serious consequences and should not be taken lightly.
However, formal steps can be necessary, if:
- The problem or incident is very severe
- All informal attempts at resolution have failed
- The behaviour has continued
If considering a formal procedure, talk to your manager or an appropriate member of staff. These procedures are also provided for every employee in writing as will the results of any formal proceedings.
If a formal procedure does occur, it will most likely involve an impartial investigation, a hearing or meetings as required, and a final decision being made. It is your employer’s legal duty to ensure that such proceedings take place as fairly and consistently for everyone involved.
Solving the Issue of Bullying & Harassment
Many of us have had the unfortunate experience of being bullied or harassed. Fortunately, awareness due to campaigns such as Anti-Bullying Week 2021 have helped to reduce these incidents. And when such incidents do arise, employers are much better equipped to handle them.
Often, being prepared for bullying or harassment can go far in preventing it. If you are unaware if your own organisation has an anti-bullying at work policy, you should inquire. Human Focus also offers an awareness level Bullying and Harassment online training course, which is suitable for those at any level within an organisation.