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How to Build a Bully- and Harassment-Free Workplace

The prevalence of workplace bullying and harassment is a serious issue that demands our attention. Shocking statistics indicate that one in five employees in the UK may have experienced workplace bullying, with similar trends observed globally. In some industries, such as the cultural and creative sectors, the numbers are even more alarming, shedding light on the urgent need for preventive measures. In this article, we will explore the significance of defining, recognising, and addressing bullying and harassment, emphasising the responsibility of employers and outlining practical steps to foster a safe and inclusive work environment.

Defining Harassment and Bullying

In the UK, harassment is legally defined under the Equality Act 2010 as “unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment.” While bullying lacks a specific legal definition, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) characterises it as “offensive, intimidating, malicious, or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.”

Creating a Safe Reporting Environment

Empowering employees to report harassment is crucial. Shockingly, a mere 48% of witnesses took action, indicating a reluctance to intervene. A significant 51% of those reporting bullying identified supervisors/managers as the primary source. Encouraging a culture where employees feel confident and safe to report incidents is essential.

Recognising Signs of Bullying

Understanding the signs of bullying is key to prevention. These may include name-calling, ignoring, belittling, scapegoating, setting up to fail, giving meaningless tasks, and aggressive behaviour. Proactive awareness can contribute to early intervention and resolution.

Employer Responsibility

Employers bear a legal duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their employees, encompassing protection from bullying and harassment. The detrimental effects on both organisational and personal levels, such as loss of productivity, high turnover, legal actions, and psychological scars, underscore the importance of proactive prevention.

Studies reveal that 46% of workers in the film and television industry across the UK reported being bullied at work, twice the rate of the workforce in the wider economy.

Addressing Cyber Bullying

As online bullying becomes increasingly common, comprehensive anti-bullying policies covering both physical and digital spaces are vital. Despite the challenges in detecting and proving cyberbullying, its potential impact on mental health and absenteeism necessitates a proactive approach.

Preventing Bullying and Harassment

To create a safer and more inclusive workplace, employers should implement clear policies, communicate them effectively, and provide comprehensive training. Establishing a zero-tolerance culture is paramount. Senior management commitment, confidentiality for complaints, and robust review and investigation procedures contribute to a supportive environment.

A New Approach to On-boarding

Incorporating anti-harassment and anti-bullying training into the on-boarding process for new employees sets clear expectations from the start. Monitoring signs of bullying symptoms, such as absenteeism, allows for early intervention.

In conclusion, stopping workplace bullying and harassment requires a collective effort from employers, employees, and management. By fostering a culture of respect, implementing preventive measures, and providing comprehensive training, we can create workplaces where everyone feels valued, safe, and free from the detrimental effects of harassment and bullying.