An Acas study has revealed that workplace bullying is becoming more common across the UK and many employees are too afraid to speak up.
The report, Seeking better solutions: tackling bullying and ill-treatment in Britain’s workplaces, analysed calls to the Acas helpline from employers and employees.
Over the past year, the helpline has received 20,000 calls relating to bullying and harassment, with some callers worryingly claiming that bullying at their place of work had caused them to self-harm or consider suicide.
Sir Brendan Barber, Acas chair, said: “Our analysis reveals that bullying is on the rise in Britain and it is more likely to be found in organisations that have poor workplace climates, where this type of behaviour can become institutionalised.
“Callers to our helpline have experienced some horrific incidents around bullying that have included: humiliation; ostracism; verbal; and physical abuse.
“Managers sometimes dismiss accusations around bullying as simply personality or management style clashes, while others may recognise the problem but lack the confidence or skills to deal with it.”
He also noted the serious financial consequences of the problem, stating: “Businesses should be taking workplace bullying very seriously as the annual economic impact of bullying-related absences, staff turnover and lost productivity is estimated to be almost £18 billion.”
Cost to individuals
Analysis of calls to the helpline revealed that:
- many employees did not make a complaint because they feared doing something about the unwanted behaviour might make the situation worse;
- ill-treatment from other members of staff often built up to the point where some employees dreaded going to work;
- workers’ family and home lives had been affected and many have taken leave to escape the workplace;
- inexperienced employers feel they lack the skills to go through complex grievance and disciplinary procedures that bullying allegations may involve; and
- some managers, once alerted to allegations of bullying, can favour moving staff around rather than investigating and dealing with underlying behaviour problems.
The analysis also showed that there are more incidents of bullying within certain groups of employees, such as: public-sector minority ethnic workers; women in traditionally male-dominated occupations; workers with disabilities or long-term health problems; lesbian, gay and bisexual and transgender people; and those working in healthcare.
Building a positive outcome
Barber added: “Anti-bullying workplace policies and managers with good people-management skills are essential to deal with the growing problem of bullying.
“Our study shows that encouraging a positive workplace climate is just as important as it allows people to have the confidence to report bullying when it occurs.”
The report recommends that workplaces agree standards of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours and senior leaders act as role models for these standards.
The report has been timed to coincide with anti-bullying week, which runs from 16 to 20 November.