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Q&A: Keeping the workplace bullies at bay

Q: Workplace bullying has never been a problem for our practice. However, as we grow staff numbers I want to ensure that we promote an environment that is free of bullying and harassment. What measures can we put in place and how do we identify someone that is being bullied?

A: While bullying and harassment may sound like something that occurs in the playground in reality it can easily and often does happen at work. However it is good that you are taking preventive measures to ensure your workplace is free of bullying and harassment. Employers have a duty of care, to ensure the wellbeing of their employees, whether this be health and safety or in this case the prevention of bullying and harassment.

If an employee raises a concern of bullying then you need to take their complaint seriously and investigate. You may feel that the complaint does not justify investigation because it may seem a harmless joke. Sadly, to the individual this may not be the case; this also needs to be communicated to your staff. You firstly need to ensure that you have HR rules in place that outline your anti-bullying policy.

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An employee who is being bullied may not feel confident in expressing their feelings so you and your management need to be observant. The individual may be quiet, unsociable and their work may well be affected. Remember, the employee may perceive management behaviour as bullying so it is important that managers realise that their actions can be perceived as unacceptable. Also remember that bullying and harassment may not be necessary face-to-face, they may be by written communications such as email. Again, unacceptable behaviour by email or other forms of communication needs to be made clear to your employees.

You also need to talk to the employee being accused of the bullying; have an informal chat with them because they may be unaware that their actions are having a detrimental impact. Point out their actions and make your policies clear to them. Clearly explain procedures that could occur if the employee continues to bully. If their intentions were not malicious and no bullying was intended, especially if it was intended to be a harmless joke, then you need to point out that people may react differently, so care needs to be taken in the future.

Finally, bullying and harassment may well impact on productivity and the morale of the employee being victimised, and this may also impede on work colleagues. Ensure that all managers are trained on identifying and dealing with bullying complaints. Build a workplace culture that discourages bullying and also allows those that feel intimidated, bullied or harassed to be able to freely speak with someone.

They need to know that this person will take their complaint seriously and take action to resolve their concerns.

David Price is managing director of Health Assured