Workplace bullying doesn’t just happen in a physical environment; whether businesses are operating remotely or office-based, bullying behaviours can manifest, with the pressures of working through a pandemic no doubt adding stress and pressure to staff roles. Here’s how managers can spot the signs and approach affected staff.
Bullying and harassment at work during COVID-19
Some might assume that the COVID-19 period has diminished workplace bullying, with many employees working remotely. However, work intensification has been known to contribute to bullying behaviours while frontline workers such as healthcare professionals continue to experience pressures in person.
Factors such as covering the shifts of sick employees, adapting to new ways of working, and juggling work and childcare pressures have arisen during the pandemic period, which, if left unchecked, can contribute to feelings of frustration and even a culture of bullying and other aggressive behaviours.
Unsurprisingly, workplace bullying can damage the emotional and physical health and wellbeing of
an employee who experiences it. Whether the bullying is coming from an employer or a colleague, it can cause loss of confidence, self-esteem, tiredness, an inability to sleep, lack of appetite, panic attacks, depression, and a dread of going to work.
The signs of workplace bullying
Bullying in the workplace can take these various forms:
- Constantly criticising an employee, often in front of other employees.
- Spreading nasty rumours and remarks about an employee.
- Using bad, obscene, aggressive, threatening language to an employee.
- Shouting at, intimidating and harassing an employee.
- Taking away responsibility from an employee unnecessarily.
- Asking the employee to do trivial and menial jobs which the employee is not responsible for.
- Withholding important information from an employee which the employee needs to have as part of their job.
- Isolating an employee by ignoring them and excluding an employee from conversations and communications which are relevant to their area of responsibility.
- An employer passing off an employee’s ideas and work as their own.
- Expecting an employee to produce work in an unrealistic and/or impossible time-scale.
- Blaming an employee for the employer’s mistakes.
How to ‘check in’ with staff
With many teams still working remotely, without checking in on staff verbally about their wellbeing, managers may not even be aware that bullying is taking place.
It’s important that managers remember that checking in with staff about wellbeing isn’t the same as checking in about performance. With the added pressures employees face and continue to face with COVID-19, management should be more interactive, not less. While employees can feel more supported by this, ensure these are planned and not random calls, or else employees may feel micromanaged.
During these check-ins, managers should emphasise the importance of team cohesion and mutual support, especially during difficult times such as working through a pandemic. Showcasing support and facilitating a shared understanding that staff may be reacting to the impact of COVID-19 differently is essential.
How to deal with workplace bullying
Whether the bullying is happening to you or to someone you manage, here are some tips for dealing with the problem yourself or advising an affected colleague.
- Talk to others within the workplace – consult colleagues, supervisors or even a trade union representative. Take advice on the options open to you to deal with this, including maybe making a formal complaint through the grievance procedure.
- Find out whether your place of work has an anti-bullying policy in operation.
- Keep a diary of all incidents with dates and times and copies of any notes from the bully which you feel constitute bullying, intimidation or harassment.
- Write to the bully clearly saying that you find their behaviour is unacceptable and amounts to bullying and set out the reasons why you believe this. Keep copies of any letters you send to the bully.
- If it is possible to record conversations where you are being bullied then do so.
- Try to look at ways of being assertive and standing up to the bully.
- If other colleagues witness any incidents where you are being bullied ask them whether they would be willing to write a statement relating to what they witnessed.
- If you have to take time off sick due to being bullied at work ask your GP to record this on your certificate.
- If nothing is done to put things right you can consider legal action, which may mean going to an employment tribunal. Get professional advice before taking this step.
- Find out more about the law covering workplace bullying from GOV.UK: workplace bullying and harassment.