An initiative from the DTI and the Amicus union aims to help organisations take more proactive approach to dealing with bullying and harassment in the workplace.
There is no denying workplace bullying is an issue that needs to be challenged. Studies by the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology estimate that the effects of workplace bullying are responsible for between one-third and half of all stress-related illnesses, and some companies have paid out nearly £1m in damages to individual employees.
In response, the DTI has announced the world’s largest anti-bullying and discrimination project – led by the Amicus union.
Half of the project’s £1.8m funding will come from the DTI’s Strategic Partnership Fund, which aims to help strengthen employer-employee relationships and improve business performance.
Secretary of state for trade and industry Patricia Hewitt said the project represents a gear change from the Government, businesses and the unions.
“We must tackle discrimination from the cradle to the grave,” she said. “People’s lives should not be made a misery by bigots fuelled by hate and ignorance.
“Bullying is a terrible issue with terrible consequences, whether it’s because of people’s sexuality, race, size or anything else,” she added.
The project has 10 partners including British Aerospace, Royal Mail, Legal & General, British Telecom and Remploy, and will be supported by government agencies such as the conciliation service Acas and the Health & Safety Executive.
At a conference last week, Kevin Green, Royal Mail’s head of learning, admitted that a survey on harassment and bullying found it was endemic in his organisation, with 15-20 per cent of employees having been harassed or bullied in the past month alone.
Green admitted that the company’s relationship with its employees remains “incredibly weak”.
Royal Mail also came last in a bullying survey of 57 UK organisations by the Commission for Racial Equality.
The feeling in the HR profession is that the project is the way forward.
Elaine Aarons, employment law partner at Eversheds, said she believes the programme is a “positive step”.
But she warned that initiatives on bullying, coupled with legislation on harassment mean that employers will have to confront the underlying cultural issues.
“The dividing line between harassment and bullying is a fine one,” she said. “This study comes at a time when British business is getting to grips with a major overhaul of discrimination legislation which provides more developed laws on harassment than we have ever had.
“Even those that have made strides in [getting to grips with the subject] know how difficult it is to change attitudes and behaviours. For all organisations, this is going to involve long-term commitment for change to occur.”
Beating the bullies
the DTI/Amicus project will provide support, advice and training to organisations trying to deal with bullying by:
- training employees as counsellors and investigators of bullying and harassment
- devising and promoting a voluntary charter on ‘dignity at work’
- promoting examples of excellent employers in the UK and lessons to learn
- producing a benchmarking tool enabling organisations to measure their success in achieving dignity
- producing a ‘ban bullying’ pack
- Bullying exposed: the nature of the beast
Harassment and bullying can range from extremes such as violence, to less obvious forms like ignoring someone. Whatever the form, it will be behaviour which is unwanted and unpleasant.
Types of bullying include:
- physical contact
- jokes, offensive language, gossip, slander, sectarian songs and letters
- posters, graffiti, obscene gestures, flags, bunting and emblems
- isolation or non-cooperation and exclusion from social activities
- coercion for sexual favours and pressure to participate in political/religious groups
- intrusion by pestering, spying and stalking
- failure to safeguard confidential information