As children, we were taught a set of social rules which were, at least in theory, to ensure that once we were all grown up we would instinctively know what it meant to be a decent human being. We went through life with an acquired instinct about how to interact with one another. Stick to this and you are sorted we thought.
Then times changed. For some, the frame of reference was always slightly out of synch with common sense and the general consensus. Perhaps this was always going to be a side effect of society moving forward.
Some argue that the relationship formed by an employment contract is unequal in its very essence. You need a job to survive and the employer has a choice between giving the job to you, as opposed to one of many other hopefuls. It therefore seems logical that our behaviour in the workplace is affected by this perceived power imbalance. Dignity at work policies and legislation aim to ensure that we are all interacting within the confines of an agreed set of social rules. It also addresses behaviour that ultimately may be detrimental to both the business and the individual.
So what does all this mean in practice?
This article has been split into 5 parts. Click on the links to navigate to each part.
- Introduction into Bullying and Harassment and why it matters
- Bullying and Harassment: What do you need to care about?
- What does your staff handbook say? And examples of harassment
- Unusual forms of harassment
- Action Plan and final words
Definition: Bullying and Harassment
There are many definitions of bullying and harassment.
Bullying may be characterised as: Offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.
Harassment as defined in the Equality Act 2010 (EqA) is: Unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive for that individual.
(Source: ACAS Guide for Managers and Employers Bullying and Harassment at Work)
For examples of bullying and harassment, please follow the below link to the relevant Acas Guides.
Why does it matter?
The effects of bullying and harassment on the individual are more readily identified as it will most likely lead to stress, loss of self confidence and self esteem caused by harassment and bullying. The individual can also feel insecure about their job or fall ill due to the increase of stress in the workplace. Should this happen, the employee may be absent from work and in extreme cases, even decide to resign.
In any event, bullying and harassment at work will lead to a decrease in efficiency, adversely-affected relations in the workplace and an increased cost to the business may occur due to poor employee relations, low morale, inefficiency and (potentially) loss of staff. As the ACAS code says, it is important to note that the impact on the individual can be the same as harassment and the words bullying and harassment are used interchangeably in the workplace.
Unless bullying amounts to conduct defined as harassment in EqA it is not possible to make a claim to an employment tribunal about it.
For the individual, this can include:
- Stress and/or sleep disturbance.
- Panic attacks or general anxiety.
- Impaired ability to work/concentrate.
- Reduced job performance and relations in the workplace.
- Loss of self-confidence and/or self-esteem.
For the employer, the cost to the business can include:
- Poor employee relations.
- Low morale.
- Loss of respect for managers and supervisors.
- Poor performance.
- Inefficiency and loss or productivity.
- Resignations of skilled staff.
- Damage to company reputation.
- Tribunal or other court cases and payment of unlimited compensation.
As the ACAS guide explains, bullying and harassment are not only wholly unacceptable on moral grounds, but may also create serious problems for your business as a whole. The following are potential outcomes to a bullying and harassment situation that is ignored:
- Poor moral and poor employee relations.
- Loss of respect from managers and supervisors.
- Lost productivity.
- Damage to company reputation.
- Tribunal and other court cases and payment of unlimited compensation.