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Mar 03 2010

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How to deal with workplace bullying

from thisismoney.co.uk

What are the signs?
The most common bullying behaviours include excessive work monitoring and criticism, isolation / exclusion, intimidation and setting unrealistic targets.

It may also be in the form of malicious rumours, public humiliation, insulting jokes and withholding information needed to get the job done.

Whichever form it talks, bullying often leads to victims experiencing symptoms of stress, lowered confidence and decreased motivation.

Insomnia, anxiety and even depression are also commons symptoms – resulting in more sick days from the affected member of staff.

Recent figures show that 13.7m working days are lost every year as a result of stress and depression in the workplace. It is estimated bullying costs employers more than £2bn each year – in sick pay, staff turnover and decreased productivity.

Who’s affected?
Certain groups of society are more prone to workplace bullying than others.

Research shows that one in three young women have fallen prey to bullying at work, most commonly by older women in a more senior professional position.

A Unison survey last year showed that young black people are twice as likely to suffer bullying, while a quarter of gay men are being harassed because of their sexuality.

And certain sectors appear to fare worse than others. According to the UK National Bullying Advice Line, the largest number of callers seeking advice are those from the public sector such as teachers, nurses and local government workers.

Even Gordon Brown has faced accusations of bullying junior staff. Christine Pratt of the National Bullying Helpline said her charity received calls from disgruntled government staff members.

Taking action
Many victims feel uneasy about speaking up, fearing it will make the situation worse or harm their reputation. But there are clear steps you can take to deal with the problem.

Firstly you could try speaking directly to the person in question, explaining why you find the behaviour difficult to work with. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, try speaking to another colleague or manager / supervisor informally.

Keep a diary of all instances in which you are made to feel picked on, including the dates. Also keep emails and documents which give evidence of bullying behaviour.

You can choose to make a formal complaint or ‘raise a grievance’ as it is otherwise known. Approach your firm’s Human Resources department, or manager if there is no such department, with the evidence and explain the problem.

There is no legally binding process that you and your employer must follow when handling or raising a grievance at work but there is an ACAS Code of Practice offering guidance.

Following a formal complaint, your employer will most likely ask for a letter setting out the details of your grievance and arrange a meeting to discuss it further.

In the letter, detail how you would like your employer to resolve the situation and make sure you keep a copy. You are entitled to bring along a colleague or trade union representative to a grievance meeting.

The result of the complaint could be disciplinary action against the member of staff in question. You have the ability to appeal your employer’s decision if you are unhappy with the outcome.

You could also turn to a third party to mediate between you and your employer. ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) helps individuals or groups of employees to avoid or resolve problems in the workplace. Their helpline offers free, confidential and impartical guidance. You could also raise the issue with your sector’s trade union.

The final attempt at settling the dispute is by making a claim to an Employment Tribunal – a specialist law court which only hears workplace disputes.

Tribunals are less formal than other courts and are usually heard by a panel of three people – a legally qualified Employment Judge and two ‘lay members’ representing the employee and employer sectors.

There is no charge for making a claim at an Employment Tribunal but you may consider contacting a lawyer to find out your chances of success as it can be a challenging process.

If you are forced to resign due to bullying you can bring a constructive dismissal claim against your employer. ›› More on constructive dismissal and your employment rights.

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