Tackling bullying in any organisation, large or small, is incredibly difficult. What one person classes as bullying or intimidating behaviour may be perfectly acceptable to another.
That’s why many managers struggle to get a handle on identifying the problem within their organisation, let alone measuring it and then doing something positive about it.
So this is why moves by the NHS and Surinder Sharma, its director for equality and human rights, to tackle bullying and harassment, must be applauded.
There is obviously a huge, long-standing problem in the NHS. More than a third of its 1.3 million employees say they have been harassed, bullied or abused at work, either by colleagues or patients.
NHS Employers – the body responsible for workforce conditions in the health service – recognises that this figure is unacceptable and that more needs to be done to address the problem.
Sharma is well placed to talk with a great deal of knowledge about what he calls a “critical issue”, having spent more than 25 years working in the equal opportunities field. So when he says managers are failing to deal with the problem of bullying effectively, HR professionals should sit up and take notice.
Training for both staff and managers is clearly vital. But perhaps more important is creating an environment where employees can come forward and report inappropriate behaviour in confidence.
This has to be seen as the challenge for HR. You can send staff of all levels to all manner of awareness training, but unless the culture of the organisation is right, the message could be falling on deaf ears.
HR as a profession should keep a close watch on how the NHS progresses with its action plan over the next few years. If an organisation with well over a million employees can start to make inroads in to the problem, that would surely send a positive signal to the rest of the UK’s employers.