Whilst we may not all be facing each other across our desks at the moment as we circumnavigate our way through Covid-19, bullying is still rife and systemic in the workplace, with cyber bullying in particular being driven higher by the pandemic, according to leaders in change management.
As anti-bullying week (16th November – 20th November 2020) approaches, Thom Dennis, MD of Serenity in Leadership, is calling for deeper understanding and systemic action to tackle the problem. “Whilst bullying can sometimes be down to one individual, it can often be deep rooted right in the core of a business. Commitment and persistence are required to alter a culture of bullying because it will show up at every turn, taking many forms, therefore demanding systemic solutions.
“The world is forcing us to pay attention to lingering problems more urgently than ever before. Real change on the issues of dignity, justice and mental health are long overdue. These are urgent problems that are too important to earn only a moment of our attention, regardless of other important issues going on in the world today. Businesses need to keep attending to and identifying bullying and inequality problems to make the changes that will benefit both our people and our businesses. Organisations thrive when people thrive.”
In early 2020 The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found in a survey that a quarter of employees think their company turns a blind eye to workplace bullying and harassment.
Neuroscientist and business psychologist Dr Lynda Shaw says: “What we need to remember is bullying can be found in all walks of life and takes many forms. Often bullying leaves no visible scars, so goes unreported and therefore doesn’t show up in statistics. It is even harder to prove now many of us are working from home. Adult bullying can be hard to quantify but everyone should be entitled to a safe and enjoyable work environment, but if invidious bullying has crept in there are ramifications not only for the employees but the business’s bottom line will also suffer.”
Bullying in the workplace can take many forms including verbal abuse, offensive behaviours, unjustified criticism, singling someone out for the wrong reasons, excluding employees, or embarrassing or humiliating, and much more.
The effects of bullying can be anxiety, depression, low self-worth, feeling intimidated, low morale and stress to the employee or employees, amongst others. In addition, bullying can affect the business in creating poor performance, high levels of sick leave, valuable employees leaving the business, and a hostile environment which can trickle down throughout the workplace becoming visible to customers and business associates thereby affecting the brand.
Thom Dennis tells us how we can address bullying in the workplace:
- Work at a systemic level for real change rather than just ticking the boxes. Respect must be a key value throughout every part of the workplace. Bullying must be seen as unacceptable. Full stop.
- Diversity of race, gender, sexual orientation, disability and social differences – businesses need to be passionate about inclusion for everyone – the importance of belonging and connection in an unconnected world has never been more vital. Active, genuine inclusion is the single most effective way of eliminating dysfunctional behaviour.
- Leaders need to master responsible power to enable workplace resilience. Egoless leaders who are seen by colleagues as impactful and inspirational are never ones who abuse their power. Instead these leaders work with transparency, accountability and inclusivity.
- Clear protocols about what to do if you are being bullied or if you see someone being bullied are key and regular policy meetings should be held. There must be clear consequences for bullying too with written bullying and harassment policies, and a clear code of conduct or duty of care to employees.
- Don’t depend on low statistics to prove that a particular problem doesn’t exist in your organisation. However comprehensive and all-encompassing your protocols are, there will be a significant proportion of people who will not make use of them, despite your reassurances. There are other ways to listen to people and you need to have these separate conduits.
- Understand disconnection in the way we work can mean emotional disconnection and fragmented communication which creates isolation and anxiety and allows bullying to go even more unnoticed.
- Drill down into power and privilege in the workplace and its use and misuse. Are certain staff members being disempowered by others?
- Emotional intelligence is key to a well-functioning work environment and should be highly valued as it is key to personal and professional success.
- Create real dialogue – We need a safe space to talk about our concerns with leaders. Bring change through facilitated dialogue so that people with the total opposite views can hear each other, and find ways to eliminate biases.
- Accept that change in business is difficult for everyone, more so than ever, and actively ensure good communication, that plans are as transparent as possible in order to face uncertainty head on and that employees are treated equally.