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John Harris /

Bullying can never be acceptable in the workplace

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All workers should have the right to be treated with dignity and respect. Any form of bullying must be taken seriously.

In recent years there has been much more attention given to the problem of bullying, with some high-profile cases reported in the press where workers have started challenging the culture in their workplace. This has also helped expose just how widespread it is, with an estimated 25% of workers having directly experienced bullying at least once in the past five years.

This is reflected in the reports from union representatives in the workplace. The 2018 annual survey of safety representatives listed stress as the biggest concern. In the number two slot was bullying, with 45% of representatives reporting it as one of their top five concerns.

Bullying can destroy peoples’ lives. It leads to anxiety, depression, tearfulness and lack of confidence and a large number of people feel they are unable to challenge the bullying and end up leaving their job.

That is why unions are the key to tackling bullying. They can do two things. The first is to support workers when they are subjected to bullying. The other is to ensure that there are effective policies in place to prevent bullying.

In order to help union representatives ensure that bullying is not tolerated in the workplace, the TUC has produced a guide on how to tackle it.

The guide makes it clear that unions are best placed to help give workers the confidence to challenge anyone they believe is bullying them, whatever their level in the organisation, and ensure that the employer takes action to protect the member and provide them with a safe and supportive workplace.

But we should not wait until members complain before taking on bullying, especially as all the evidence shows that workers are often unwilling to speak about the problem. We need to get in there first and make sure there are strong policies that protect and support the complainant and give a clear process for how complaints will be handled.

But members must also have confidence that the procedures will be followed. One thing that union representatives often hear from members is that they are scared they will be victimised or moved if they complain, especially if their complaint is about a more senior member of staff. Sadly, that does happen, which is why there must be a commitment to take bullying seriously throughout the organisation. That means, as well as just agreeing a policy, management must ensure that every manager or supervisor has a responsibility for preventing or eliminating bullying and receives training in how to do that.

Preventing bullying takes more than just an agreement and management commitment to tackle it. It also needs a change in culture. Often bullies do not consider what they are doing is wrong and are either unable or unwilling to understand that what they see as “banter” is actually very hurtful to another person. Posters and leaflets can help raise awareness, but one of the most effective tools is asking the workforce.

A questionnaire about bullying, either done by the union, or jointly with management, can be really effective in showing what problems exist. It can prove to management, and to the workers in general, that a lot of people consider they are being bullied. And if people feel that they are being bullied, it’s pretty certain that they are.

The TUC guidance includes a simple survey form that you might want to use. It is intended to cover both workplaces where there is no existing policy, as well as those where there is a policy – after all it is important to know that if there is a policy, it is working.

Given the extent of workplace bullying, there is a need for a simple law that makes it clear that everyone is entitled to dignity at work and puts a legal duty on employers to ensure that. But until that time, the best protection is a strong union.

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