Workplace bullying is sometimes known as the ‘silent epidemic’ and many workplaces don’t have any structures in place to deal with it. This is partly because it’s not always easy to define bullying and prove that it is actually taking place.
Interestingly, whilst there are laws against harassment in the workplace (i.e. unwanted conduct related to a ‘protected characteristic’, such as weight, disability, age, etc.), there is no law against bullying because it is not related to protected characteristics. Workplace bullying might include insulting, intimidating or demeaning behaviour, or an abuse of power.
The late Tim Field (a world authority on bullying and psychiatric injury), who himself suffered a breakdown after workplace bullying, became passionate about the topic of understanding and dealing with bullying at work. In 1996 he set up the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line (no longer in operation) and then an information website, Success Unlimited (later Bully Online), a resource on workplace bullying and related issues.
According to Tim Field, there is a clear connection between workplace bullying and workplace stress:
“There’s only one way of dealing with stress – that’s to identify the cause and then work to reduce or eliminate that cause. I believe bullying is the main, but least recognised, cause of stress in the workplace today.”
Workplace bullying has a negative impact on the work environment, including (to name a few):
- significantly higher rates of sickness absence;
- high employee turnover;
- high costs of training and retraining (to replace absent staff);
- low workforce morale;
- poor industrial relations.
Employers are responsible for preventing bullying and harassment and they are liable for any harassment suffered by their employees. Organisations need to have their own policies in place to prevent bullying in the workplace. For more information, see the ACAS website.
Work environments can have a significant impact on a person’s health and wellbeing, and a person’s health conditions can greatly affect a person’s ability to work effectively. For information about this interplay between work and health, take a look at the Fit for Work online resources.