By: Clive Lewis Managing Director Globis
Date: December 2007
Being bullied is a harrowing experience. The recent increased national focus on banishing bullying from the workplace means that incidents of bullying at work are declining – Aren’t they?
A former colleague once told me the story of how she had resorted to switching her mobile phone off and keeping the answering machine on at home, even when she was there. Why? Her boss kept calling her for work-related information even when she was away from work. The duration of the calls were lengthy and she felt that she had no choice but to be constantly available for her boss.
On one hand, I thought, it must be great to be in such demand and be the person with all the answers. It may even provide a sense of security knowing that you have information that is difficult to be retrieved elsewhere in the organisation. On the other hand when the lines of separation between home and work become blurred levels of stress and dissatisfaction are likely to increase. In my colleague’s case, it wasn’t the fact that she was being asked that gave her the problem. It was the way in which the caller asked for the information in addition to the frequency with which these calls were coming.
Fortunately, my colleague was able to find an HR colleague, in whom she trusted, to talk to about her predicament. This helped bring about a solution. This included arranging a mediation session between the two parties, which was successful. But solutions aren’t always this easy. We have seen in the most extreme cases of bullying that a former employee of an investment bank won £800,000 in damages from her former employer for psychological injury. Recent research shows that only 33% of line managers feel trained to cope with relationship difficulties at work.
Most bullies don’t intend to be nasty. Very few people go out of their way to make others’ lives a misery. Most people don’t realise how hurtful they are being until confronted. In one case I dealt with recently, the line manager began to cry when she realised the impact she was having on the life of one of the members of her team.
One piece of advice to anyone being bullied is to keep records of incidents. Relationships can be rebuilt after allegations of bullying if handled properly. Having detailed notes that allow a discussion based on fact to take place will help a great deal. Respondents to a recent Amicus Survey said they thought that 80% of bullying was down to miscommunication that escalated into real interpersonal problems.
Organisations can also help the bully by offering training and development programmes that include topics such as managing difficult conversations, influencing and making an impact. The business case for improving relationships at work is well proven. Poor relationships at work lead to issues such as higher rates of sickness absence, increased levels of stress, increased levels of employee turnover, lower productivity and poor customer service.
The best way to deal with any breakdown in relationships is to act quickly before the problem gets worse.
To help you, here are some tips for your organisation:
- Define the problem – what is and isn’t acceptable
- Provide managers with appropriate training courses – such as managing difficult conversations, influencing and making an impact
- Provide individual support – through HR teams and other departments
- Support the bully and the bullied – both parties can benefit from on-going interventions such as coaching
This article is also published in the Opportunities Magazine