More than half of HR professionals have been bullied at work, predominantly by their immediate manager, according to the Personnel Today/Andrea Adams Trust survey.
Although the figure of 53% represents a fall from 76% in 2004, it still paints an ugly picture of harassment and abuse in UK HR.
The bullying itself takes a variety of forms: unfair criticism, exclusion, intimidation and withholding information are the most common. Office bullies also set unreasonable targets, remove responsibilities and assign unsuitable tasks, while verbal abuse was experienced by almost 40% of respondents.
The survey reveals that the main perpetrators of bullying are senior figures within firms. This suggests most UK employers have a long-standing cultural problem.
Some 55% of HR said they had been bullied by their immediate manager, 23% by another manager and 29% by a director in their company.
One HR professional was bullied because “my face no longer fitted. My manager’s way of dealing with this was to make life so uncomfortpeople left – which I did”.
Another said: “It was institutionalised throughout the organisation and perpetuated from the very top.”
The survey shows bullying affects people in different ways. The most common is a lowering of confidence and self-esteem. It also has an impact on performance, with 44% saying it affects the quality of their work.
More disturbing is the effect it can have on the victim’s health. More than half those surveyed said bullying affected their sleep, more than a third said it made them depressed, and a quarter became more anxious.
HR staff would rather leave than attempt to resolve the problem. More than half (56%) said they started looking for a new job after being bullied. Just 9% made a formal complaint and only 14% spoke to the bully’s immediate manager.