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How to deal with workplace bullying

Reports of workplace bullying have doubled in the last ten years – and the recession has put extra pressure on employees at all levels to get results. All too often, tempers flair and company structures fly out of the window, leading to managers bullying their employees. When one is a director, the pressure to achieve – and the extent of bullying – may be greater.

It can be hard to know where the line is drawn between having an assertive colleague that is under pressure and one that is a bully. If he/she humiliates, offends or makes a personal attack on you then it is likely you are being bullied.

What to do

If you are being bullied, keep a diary of dates, times, places and details of incidents, including the names of any witnesses. This will serve as evidence if you decide to make a formal complaint or take the case to court or tribunal. If you intend taking formal legal action, there may be strict time limits to be observed and you may need to take legal advice in relation to this.

Bullies thrive on reactions, it’s actually the main reason they do what they do. Even if you don’t feel particularly confident try and appear as if you are and build up a mental brick wall against insults and aggression.

If you are being shouted at, my advice is to wait until the storm has passed, repeat your concerns back to him/her and be specific about how to fix things. Distill the issues discussed in the outbreak. Your colleague will expect you to be defensive or to break down, but instead make sure you communicate that you’re a supportive employee and you’re on his/her team.

If the aggressive or inappropriate behavior continues, inform the person that you consider their behavior to be a form of bullying. Do this informally at first and then in writing. Describe how it makes you feel and state your clear intention not to tolerate it. Also state that while you do not propose to take immediate action, you will be forced to do so if it continues.

If that doesn’t work, write a formal letter of complaint. Your company procedures will typically have a bullying/harassment and/or grievance policy which will stipulate to whom the complaint should go to. Identifying the right person can be difficult if you are a director. The procedures should state who the complaint should go to if it is your boss or director/owner of the organisation that is responsible for the bullying. You may need to take specific advice at this juncture if an individual to whom the complaint should be sent cannot easily be identified.

A shoulder to cry on

It’s advisable to discuss the matter with a trustworthy colleague, a friend, supervisor and your partner. Ask this person to help you plan what to do and to support you. A third party often brings fresh light to the problem and may be able to intervene.

If your organisation has a personnel or HR department, make them aware of the problem. Dealing with employees’ welfare is an important part of the HR role and staff are trained to treat personal grievances in the strictest confidence.

If no-one in the organisation is prepared to take your complaint seriously and the matter remains unresolved having followed the procedures through, take legal advice. It is likely that they will begin to take the matter seriously without delay.  Please note that there are time limits to be observed if you intend to issue legal proceedings.

Neeta Laing, head of employment law, and Brian Rogers, an HR expert, work at Lewis Hymanson Small, a commercial law firm in Manchester.



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