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Simone Cheng: Addressing bullying in the present and future workplace: back to the basics

Monday 12 November 2018

Simone Cheng, Acas Policy Adviser discusses methods of going back to basics when tackling bullying in the workplace.

Simone Cheng

Simone Cheng

Acas Policy Adviser.

Simone Cheng is a Policy Advisor at Acas and is part of a team responsible for informing the future strategic direction of Acas and influencing the wider debate on the value of employment relations.

"Choose respect" is the theme of this year's Anti Bullying Week. It seems simple, and in reality it should be. But the truth is, bullying remains rife across all walks of life.

A survey by The Diana Award found that nearly a third (30%) of workers believe bullying occurs in their current workplace. When we spend such a huge part of our lives working, the impact that this can have on our wellbeing is immense.

I recently heard about a Japanese cartoon, Aggretsuko. Retsuko, a red panda, works in a trading firm and is subjected to bullying and harassment by her pig boss (literally and figuratively). Her choice of outlet involves singing death metal songs at karaoke, hence the name Aggretsuko - short for Aggressive Retsuko.

Of course I'm not suggesting that we deal with bullying by responding with aggression. But the emotional turmoil it causes can be intense. We want to scream or shout, but often we can't. We feel so small that we think no one will hear us anyway.

And eventually it can take its toll. In Acas' paper, Seeking better solutions: tackling bullying and ill-treatment in Britain's workplaces, an analysis of calls to our Helpline found that ill-treatment often built to the point where employees dreaded going to work, had taken or were taking leave to 'escape' the workplace and the stresses had seeped into their home and family life.

We should all choose respect, but what choice do those have on the receiving end of bullying: to speak up or to suffer in silence? This has been a prominent area of discussion since the revival of the #MeToo movement, where, faced with fears of repercussion and a sense of futility, many unsurprisingly do not feel able to report what has happened to them.

But while choices - or at least those with a positive outcome - may often be limited for individuals, the situation is different for employers. Employers can positively influence the working environment so that people do not feel they are suffering along or in silence. Employers can choose to:

  • set clear behavioural standards and expectations;

  • provide training on bullying and harassment to their staff;

  • take allegations seriously, conducting a fair and thorough investigation while offering support to both the complainant and the accused;

  • have the right people managers, ensuring they have the confidence and skills to deal with bullying;

  • set the right example and role model positive behaviours.

So it's time for employers to get back to the basics - to turn to their workplace cultures and decide what's important. A choice between a present and future workplace free or full of bullying seems a very simple one.


1 Comment

  • Posted by Mark Thomas  |  19 December 2018, 4:37PM
    It is difficult to define bullying, as the linked ACAS paper says. However, is it not the case that the HSE Management Standards provide a means of greatly reducing the opportunities for bullying, by employers and employees, in the workplace? If employers risk assess their own management actions, and meet the HSE Management Standards, then draft a management standards policy, then they should be far less likely to be performing the actions that typically constitute bullying. These include: failing to consult i.e. pushing people about without warning, being over controlling e.g. making life difficult by imposing needless restrictions in order to demonstrate power / authority, failing to deal with poor relationships e.g. employees bullying other employees and so on. What do you think? I would recommend watching the TED talk, 'Forget the pecking order at work' by Margaret Heffernan. I think that the HSE Management Standards can do much to reduce the effects of managers who see the authoritarian, dictatorial, 'strong model' or leadership as being what is required of them and replace it with the mental health friendly, caring, consultative style that is required by these standards. Incidentally, it is also the management style being taught by the MOD to the services under the Adair Leadership model.
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