Q: What steps can I take to prevent bullying and harassment in the workplace? I would like to think that I encourage a happy workforce and I wish to discourage any form of bullying no matter how trivial. I am also conscious that I have advisers who spend a great deal of their time on the road. What do you suggest?
A: If an individual is being bullied in the workplace then they can suffer from stress, anxiety, depression which may lead to their absence from your business. So it is extremely important that you tackle such issues from an early stage. An individual can be fearful of coming forward regarding bullying or harassment due to concerns about losing their job, the impact on their career or repercussions from the individual they are complaining about. Therefore it is imperative that measures are put in place to ensure bullying and harassment are prevented and any complaints handled in the most sensitive manner.
The first step you need to take is to ensure you have a robust policy in place that needs to clearly acknowledge that any form of bullying or harassment is unacceptable and that you take a firm zero-tolerance policy on this. It should include confirmation that, if substantiated, the issues could be treated as a disciplinary matter and potentially be considered as gross misconduct resulting in a dismissal. Emphasise confidentiality and protection for victims as this is a major barrier in an individual coming forward with a complaint. Any procedure should set out ways for an employee to make a complaint and who they can complain to, giving alternative routes if the complaint is about immediate management, covering also the option of a formal grievance and time frames in handling a complaint.
Examples of both bullying and harassment should be included to emphasise the responsibility of each individual to ensure they are not behaving in a way that could be considered unacceptable.
Once a policy has been implemented then communicate it to all staff. It is important that all employees are aware of what could be constituted as bullying. Anti-bullying workshops or refresher sessions can then be held annually to ensure that all staff are reminded of the organisation’s stance. Ensure that your advisers on the road are both familiarised with your policy and know what to do if they themselves feel victimised.
If you suspect an individual is a victim of unwanted behaviour but has not come forward, this can be approached in an informal welfare meeting and presented as a catch-up to ensure that everything is all right, allowing the individual a confidential secure environment in which to disclose anything that is concerning. Do not forget you have a right to monitor company technology, so if you did find evidence you could approach the perpetrator directly to investigate why they have been conducting themselves in an inappropriate way, and start any necessary disciplinary process while showing support for the victim.
David Price is managing director of Health Assured