The number of employment tribunal claims involving bullying has increased to a record high in the last 12 months, according to data compiled by law firm Fox & Partners.
It found that claims involving allegations of bullying went up by 44% from 581 to 835 in the year to 31 March 2022, suggesting this could be a “canary in the mine” moment that organisations are failing to address toxic work cultures.
The number of claims briefly reduced during the pandemic, dropping to 581 in 2020/21 from 708 the year before.
The firm added that virtual working could be creating “novel” patterns of bullying that are more difficult to identify than in face-to-face working environments.
This might include cutting remarks made on video calls that are difficult to address, deliberately leaving colleagues out of remote meetings, and using messaging apps to gossip during colleagues’ presentations.
At a time when companies are struggling to hire new recruits, a bullying culture could lead to a loss of crucial talent, the firm added.
Ivor Adair, partner at Fox & Partners, said: “Tackling workplace bullying is no easy task, particularly in changing work environments.
“The record number of bullying claims is a worrying sign that some leadership teams have struggled to maintain healthy workplaces during the shift to hybrid working.”
He added that senior managers needed to detect and address concerns at all levels before conflict escalates.
“Employers should consider a suite of techniques that will effect lasting change, such as coaching, or more structured supervision and pastoral care programs,” he advised.
“Employers must also be willing to enforce company policies to protect and support colleagues at risk, if workplace cultures are to be improved.”
There have been multiple high-profile examples of the impact of toxic work cultures in recent months, including allegations of bullying at BrewDog and the disturbing findings of an independent investigation into misogyny and harassment in the Met Police.
Fox & Partners added that managers should follow the guidance of relevant regulators such as the Financial Conduct Authority, as an atmosphere of bullying or stress can cause significant harm to both business and reputation.