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58% of workers affected by bullying and harassment

New research revealed almost six in 10 people have witnessed or suffered bullying in the workplace, with more than two thirds of witnesses stating their colleague was subjected to a sustained period of harassment. Research commissioned by law-firm Slater and Gordon shows that  personality clashes, tight deadlines,and office politics often cause conflict.

Shouting, shoving, intimidation and threatening behaviour were all reported by respondents in the study which polled 2,000 working Brits. More than 37% of those questioned said they felt they had been bullied themselves and a further 21% admitting they have witnessed colleagues being subjected to abuse.

the majority of bullying comes in the form of verbal abuse or intimidation

Claire Dawson, employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon, said: “Bullying in the workplace is all too common and comes in many forms. As our research shows the majority of bullying comes in the form of verbal abuse or intimidation. This is often dismissed as ‘banter’ between colleagues but the workplace shouldn’t be a place where people are insulted.”  The bullying was disguised as ‘workplace banter’ in 56% of cases while 68% said the behaviour was ‘subtle’, such as leaving a colleague out.

Colleagues being deliberately humiliated by a bully was witnessed by more than a quarter of those questioned while 10% had heard racist insults. One in six saw a co-worker subjected to inappropriate sexual remarks. Childish pranks were seen by 24% of those surveyed while one in 15 saw their colleague’s work being sabotaged. 5% witnessed physical violence between workmates.  25% of workers who were bullied appeared stressed or upset by the behaviour while 21% were reduced to tears.

“The idea that people can be subjected to physical violence while at work is quite alarming. This can have a devastating impact on the person who is being bullied and can result in depression and anxiety,” adds Dawson.

While most people had witnessed or believed they had faced bullying in the workplace, fewer than half did anything about it

Dawson adds, “Our research shows that most people who witness bullying prefer to do nothing about it. They are concerned for their own positions and aren’t willing to put their necks on the line, especially when they don’t know how an employer will respond to the issue.”

And because bullying is particularly associated with poor mental health and low organisational satisfaction, having bullying in your organisation means people are more likely to leave the organisation, go off with sickness absence, have lower productivity and weaker organisational commitment.  So how do you prevent bullying and harassment at work?

One way is to set up a harassment advice service, either using staff volunteers or outsourcing the service.

Since introducing an internal Harassment Advisor service at one NHS Trust, levels of staff on staff bullying and harassment in the Trust decreased.

The percentage of staff experiencing harassment, bullying or abuse from their manager/ supervisor in the previous 12 months decreased from 8% to 7% over one year, and the percentage of staff experiencing harassment, bullying or abuse from their colleagues decreased from 12% 11% in the same year. Introducing such a service, especially when supported by other initiatives, can make a real improvement to the dignity culture in the workplace.

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