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Occupational health practitioners have a role in implementing workplace bullying and harassment policies, research suggests. Felicity Fleming looks at the evidence.
The CIPD (2015), Acas (2014), and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) (2009) all provide comprehensive advice for employers and managers regarding policies to address work-based bullying and harassment. Research has identified that some organisations have constructed policies by means of “imitation” (copy and paste), and that these documents have tended to be unsuccessful when implemented (Salin, 2008).
This recognises that policies need to be tailored to the needs of individual organisations, and Acas (2014), recommends that staff are actively involved in the development of these documents.
Acknowledging that policies in themselves do not eradicate negative behaviours, the CIPD (2015) stresses the importance of additionally creating a positive organisational culture regarding acceptable conduct, and ensuring that this is embedded within these policies. It is also recommended that the effectiveness of policies is regularly monitored through the collection of data on the number of grievances raised (CIPD 2015; Acas 2014), and organisational attitude surveys (Salin, 2008).
Prevalence of workplace bullying and harassment
A survey of 217,000 NHS staff in the UK revealed that 10% of employees reported having been bullied or harassed by colleagues within the preceding 12 months, and that this figure increased to 37% if abuse from relatives, visitors or patients was included (Bloom and Farragher, 2010). Just under half (42%) of workers declared that they would not report instances of workplace bullying or harassment.
Under-reporting of workplace bullying and harassment is not restricted to nurses. Research indicates that doctors, particularly trainees, are deterred from raising grievances due to beliefs that their actions will not result in improved outcomes for patient care, and, worse still, that they will be victimised and this will have a negative impact on their career prospects (Quine, 2002).
In research, 19,764 NHS employees responded to a request for information about their experiences of workplace bullying and harassment. Just under one-third (30%) of them reported that they had felt unsafe after raising a concern. Of those who had not felt sufficiently safe to speak out, 18% said that this