Academic Warns On Office Bullying Risks

CIPD Figures Reveal Extent Of Issue

07.10.2013

Bullying in the workplace is nothing new, but many businesses aren't aware of their obligation to tackle the issue.

Helge Hoel, a professor of organisational behaviour at Manchester Business School and world-renowned expert on bullying in the office, spoke to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) about how to address aggressive members of staff.

Figures from the CIPD show 15 per cent of employees have been subjected to abusive attacks by their colleagues, while a further 33 per cent have witnessed this happen to someone else.

But when it comes to tackling this issue, many executives are unsure of what they need to do in order to improve the atmosphere in the affected office, clear the air and avoid liability.

Professor Hoel suggested it is important managers highlight the perpetrator's negative behaviour, but the use of the word "bully" can be contentious and carries heavy legal weight, so this should not be used in all but the most serious of cases.

However, action absolutely must be taken and the Manchester Business School scholar recommends moving teams around to reassure the victim of a campaign of abuse they will not have to face the aggressor on a regular basis.

But this often doesn't happen and, according to Professor Hoel, if the bully is particularly good at their job, these issues are overlooked and office dynamics remain in stasis.

This is unsustainable and could even result in legal action if a victim has repeatedly (in writing) highlighted how stressed and anxious they are becoming because of verbal or physical assaults, or even passive aggressive behaviour.

Indeed, there have been a number of high-profile cases in the press recently concentrating on bullying victims' compensation payouts.

Concluding his call to action for businesses across the UK, professor Hoel said: "We need to take a collective approach to bullying in the workplace. One person can't change an organisation's culture, but can certainly get the ball rolling by standing up and recognising unacceptable and negative behaviour."

Expert Opinion
The impact that harassment in the workplace has on victims should not be underestimated, as we see many cases when those affected can be left with significant psychological trauma as a result of such problems.

"Employers cannot ignore the overall business impact it has on themselves too, with such issues often leading to lost productivity and issues with staff retention. All in all, companies including SMEs need to have a robust system in place from the outset to ensure that such issues can be tackled quickly and decisively.

"A formal policy on the issue can go a long way to setting out a stall on how such issues should be handled and we would urge employers to ensure they seek legal advice on how to put quality provisions in place."
Fergal Dowling, Partner