Bullying cannot be tolerated. It is not only upsetting for staff but also seriously impacts on a company’s performance. But don’t jump in at the deep end when tackling it, says Petra Cook

It is estimated that almost 19 million working days are lost every year in the UK as a result of workplace bullying. And these are figures that prompted the trade union, Amicus, to go on record threatening to name the organisations it felt were not dealing with the issue.
The focus is, quite rightly, designed to protect individuals. But all managers have a duty to deal with bullying because it can do more than damage the self-esteem or morale of one person. The impact can be felt on the wider workforce and on organisational performance. And there is the likely actual cost of hiring short-term replacement cover.
Your objective should be to create a culture where bullying is simply not tolerated. Although there is no legislation focusing solely on bullying, there have been instances where employers have been taken to tribunal under harassment legislation.
Because of the publicity surrounding claims of harassment, employees have become increasingly conscious of their workplace rights. So what can you do to ensure a harmonious team?
First of all, you must be able to spot the signs. Bullying can take many forms and is often subjective. Yet, if someone in your team feels that they have been victimised, you must deal with it promptly. But do not rush into actions. Rather make sure you are objective and incisive.
Misuse of power is one issue to look out for. Is there someone in your team who continually ‘pulls rank’ on a more junior team member? Gossip is another concern. It might be harmless fun but it must never be allowed to turn into malicious rumour or personal ridiculing.
Make sure you spend time talking
to your staff - the best way to find out what is happening is by showing an interest in individuals and their opinions. You may also wish to consider routine risk assessments. The regularity here is important because if you only occasionally analyse the issue, it may lead to mistrust. And of course, there are the formal employee satisfaction surveys that often provide revealing insights into workplace issues. Remember, bullying does not just happen between managers and their staff. It can occur between colleagues or between staff and suppliers.
The onus is also on you, and your organisation, to ensure effective policies are in place that help to prevent bullying and outline the way it will be dealt with.
But what can you do to develop such a policy? Do not think that it needs to be elaborate - the key is to make it accessible, understandable and front of mind. One way to achieve this is to ensure you have a statement of commitment from senior management. Bullying can occur because of a particular workplace culture and the best way to change and challenge this is by demonstrating leadership from the top. Make sure your team also know what constitutes unacceptable behaviour. The problem is that a policy on its own can be argued against, but clear examples help put the issue into context. It is also important that a structure is laid out in terms of who people can turn to. Is there counselling support available? Does your union or health and safety representative have an explicit role? Have they received appropriate training for dealing with bullying?
For any policy to be effective you need to raise awareness levels about its existence. To do this - and to gain buy-in within your team - ensure that employees contribute to the development and implementation stages. Perhaps also consider including details about the policy in an induction programme for new staff members and on notice boards or staff briefings.
Measures to raise awareness may help develop a more open culture and this may, initially, result in an apparent increase in incidents as more people feel able to report it. And, of course, if a complaint is made it must be treated seriously.
You should not necessarily have to go straight to a formal procedure. A simple apology may be enough to heal injured feelings.
The Chartered Management Institute has published guidance at www.managers.org.uk/ bullying.
n Petra Cook is head of Public Affairs, Chartered Management Institute http://www.managers.org.uk