Tuesday, 17 November 2015

4 steps to take if you think you're being bullied at work

This week is National Anti-bullying Week and to mark the event my daughters' primary school held a Friendship Cafe yesterday.  For 50p the children had the chance to visit the cafe, buy a drink and a cake and have the opportunity to mix with children they might not normally do so such as younger or older children in the school.  

The photo above is the friendship chain drawn by my youngest in Year 1 who explained to me that these are the people she could talk to if she felt she was being bullied at school;  Mum, teacher, sister or a Year 6 playground play coordinator.  Just for the record, I have never done the school run in a crop top with my bully button on show ans certainly don't plan to start doing any time soon either!

But bullying isn't just a classroom issue, it happens in the workplace as well.

During my time working for the mental health charity Richmond Fellowship, I worked with 100s of employees and have seen first hand the damage bullying can do.  

So here are my top 4 steps to take if you think you're being bullied at work...

1. Is it bullying?
We may find ourselves  in a situation where we don't like the way we feel we're being treated at work but we're not sure if it constitutes bullying or harassment.  When it's happening to you it can be all consuming and can be difficult to look at it objectively when we're feeling hurt, angry, confused or scarred.  Bullies can be very devious making you doubt your story or telling you others won't believe you and intimidating you into silence.

Acas  the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service which provides free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law states:

"Everyone should be treated with dignity and respect at work." ACAS

Harassment as defined in the Equality Act 2010 is: 
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 for that individual. (ACAS)

Bullying may be characterised as: 
Offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient. (ACAS)

More information and further examples of what constitutes bullying can be found in the ACAS Bullying and Harassment at work guide.

2. Talk it through
My advice would be to start by talking through the situation whit someone you trust.  Having to actually articulate what's happening will help you to order your thoughts and create some clarity of the facts involved.

Now this one's tricky but if you can, try and arrange an information chat with the person who is treating you in a way you feel constitutes bullying.  Quite often bullies back down when confronted in a calm and in control manner. 

For tips on what to say and how to say it in a non confrontational way have a look at this post from Hannah Fox's Diary about Fact Feel Want

If talking to the bully is just too much for you or not practical then try and share how you feel with your manager or another trusted senior member of staff.

After every conversation, always document the chat including any agreements or actions agreed.

3. Keep a diary
Make a note of every inappropriate conversation; what was said, how it was said, how you felt, date and time, names of any witnesses.

Keep copies of any emails or voice-mails which are evidence to the bullying behaviour.

Also keep anything that contradicts the actions of the bully.  If the bully is implying you aren't doing your job properly then keep a nopte of all positive feedback from clients and colleagues, objectives and targets you've met and the time you've gone the extra mile.  This is your evidence and will be vital if you need to take further more formal action.

4.  Taking formal action 
The first step to taking more formal action is to raise a grievance.  Employers are responsible for preventing bullying and harassing behaviour and therefore your employer will have a formal grievance procedure so check out your staff intranet or handbook or speak with your HR department for details.

The grievance procedure will give you guidance on what to include, who to send it to and the time frame around when you will hear back from the investigation.  ACAS also has more information about Grievances which you can find here.

I'm sure other schools are also organising similar anti-bullying, kindness and tolerance promoting activities as my daughters'school Friendship Cafe and this can surely only be a good thing.  I'm not naive enough to think it will eradicate bullying totally but explaining, promoting an encouraging friendship, kindness, respect and tolerance in children is definitely laying some very solid and worthwhile foundation stones for future healthier, happier and more tolerant workplaces.

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