Dealing with bullies in the workplace
By Gemma Raw
As we enter the probation workforce, we should believe that we’ve left behind the negative impact of playground bullying and childish squabbling. After all, we’re in a professional environment working alongside a team of like-minded co-workers, trying to prevent people from reoffending and enabling them to turn their lives around.
But what if through no fault of our own, we end up in a situation where the relationship has broken down irretrievably between ourselves and a co-worker?
Workplace bullying is becoming increasingly prevalent – just three years ago, the TUC revealed that almost a third of all Brits had been bullied at work. With more HR initiatives aimed towards workplace bullying than ever before, it’s clear that employers are taking it seriously and are engaging with their staff when they receive reports of tension between co-workers.
What is workplace bullying?
Workplace bullying can occur in a variety of ways. There is no singular definition and it can come from people within all areas of the business; from co-workers up to managers or even directors.
It can come in a variety of formats; for instance, it could be insults or continual rudeness. It could be constant criticism or the setting of unrealistic targets. You may feel that you have been blocked from a longed-for promotion, given excessive supervision or you could be excluded from group activities. Even being left out from something as simple as a WhatsApp group chat could be considered a form of minor office bullying.
Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive, and issues can arise over a period before you start to feel the negative implications of the bullying. It’s worth noting that workplace bullying doesn’t always occur face-to-face, it can also take place via written communications such as emails or increasingly, social media.
What is the impact of workplace bullying?
Workplace bullying can have a physical effect on victims as well as a mental impact. It can lead to issues related to anxiety, stress or depression whilst a potential lack of sleep could impact your physical health and eating habits. Additionally, you could start to dread going into the office, struggle with concentration or find it hard to cope with simple tasks. You may find that you feel angry, humiliated or frustrated with the situation; all of which may affect your job performance.
What to do if you are being bullied
Often, bullying isn’t a deliberate process and it can be a result of the pressures faced by those working with the probation sector. Thanks to increasing caseloads, continuous budget cuts and changing governmental policies, the probation sector is an increasingly pressurised environment so it’s understandable that some people may become more defensive or set difficult targets. However, whatever the context behind the working environment, there is never any excuse to single out any individuals.
If you believe that you are being bullied, the first thing you need to do is to try and speak with the alleged perpetrator to see if you can resolve the situation in an informal manner. The person may not have realised how their actions were coming across and engaging in simple conversation could be enough to change their behaviours.
You may also wish to keep a diary of any incidents which left you feeling uncomfortable. If you evidence what happened, when it occurred and how it made you feel, you can document the bullying or harassment. Not only will this provide you with a timeline of events, but it can also enable you to recall specific incidents if you are questioned by your HR team and/or line manager.
If your informal conversation with the alleged perpetrator hasn’t changed their behaviour, then you may wish to make a formal grievance with your line manager and your HR team. If you are working on a placement arranged by Sanctuary, you may also wish to speak directly with your Sanctuary consultant who will also be able to offer help and support. When making a formal complaint, you will need to be able to show evidence of the bullying and demonstrate how it’s impacting upon your ability to do your job. Your employer has a duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which shows that they must ensure the health and welfare of their employees. You should ask your employer to provide you with a copy of their Anti-Bulling Policy and confirm what sanctions are in place for those who breach the policy.
What other support is available?
If you find that you need external support, then you may find support from ACAS. They are there to help improve working life and can offer free, impartial advice and guidance. The Citizens Advice Bureau are also available to offer support and their website is full of useful information if you are dealing with a problem at work.
Finally, if you are a member of a union, you can ensure that you are better protected. Not only will they provide you with legal advice, but they can be an independent person available to join you in any formal meeting relating to your complaint.
If you do feel that you have been bullied, make sure that you speak directly to your Sanctuary consultant. Not only are they there to advocate for you on your behalf, but they can also offer direct advice or guidance on how to handle the situation effectively.