When you think of bullying it may conjure scenes – or perhaps bad memories – of name-calling in the playground, “funny” notes stuck on your back or stolen lunch money.
I hate to say it but bullying is not just a young person’s game; sadly it’s alive and well in workplaces across the country. But, it isn’t as overt as you may think.
Bullying regularly presents itself as exclusion, or being left out, which often arises from an accumulation of hard-to-identify, small incidents over a long period of time.
Let’s be honest, there’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re not part of the gang, but not having friends at work or feeling like you don’t fit in can have a real impact, not just on a person individually, but on your organisation too.
Gallup published a report last year highlighting that having a “best friend” at work contributes to a thriving employee experience as well as their communication, performance and commitment.
It also found the social connection and emotional support from best friends at work has become more important than ever since the pandemic and the increase in remote and hybrid working. Those without a best friend at work became more isolated during the pandemic, and because they lack the collaboration and accountability from a best friend, their performance may have dipped.
So, what does exclusion look like in today’s workplace?
With many more people now working from home, it’s all too easy to exclude someone with tech. Not copying a person into emails or including them in WhatsApp messages or Teams chats, can quickly lead to isolation.
A person could be purposely kept out of the loop with information that they need to do their job or to do it better, such as company or project updates. Withholding knowledge is a classic way of asserting power over another, perhaps out of jealousy, to “put someone in their place” or in an attempt to prevent a person progressing at work.
Then there’s excluding a person socially. For example, not inviting them to after-work drinks or meet ups with colleagues outside of the office. More overtly, someone could turn their back on a person to physically cut them out of a conversation.
Colleagues may also make wrongful assumptions. For example, not including a member of the team who has returned from a period of absence due to mental health issues in a new project because they “may not be up to it”.
Here are my top tips for preventing bullying at work
Drop the act
Don’t start saying you have a zero-tolerance policy so it isn’t an issue in your workplace. Due to its insidious nature, it’s likely – if you haven’t really put in the time to prevent bullying in your workplace before – that exclusion is happening. Even the most diligent of managers may struggle to identify it without providing people with the confidence to speak up. Make the effort to create realistic policies, provide ways for people to raise their concerns and act swiftly when they do, or forever sit in denial.
Create clear policies
Bullying has no definition by law, but Acas says it may be characterised as ‘offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient’. Use these words to form policies where bullying, including exclusion, is clearly defined and communicated so everyone is aware of your expectations regarding their behaviour.
Promote a speak-up culture
One person’s banter is the next person’s bullying, so it can be difficult for people to talk about how they feel out of fear of not being taken seriously. Encourage people who feel excluded to speak up, either to a manager or HR professional, or through an anonymous employee hotline. And if you do receive a complaint of exclusion, don’t shrug it off as banter either. Listen to what the person has to say without assumptions.
Ensure that your leaders and HR professionals are trained effectively in how to prevent, identify and manage incidents of bullying, as well as workplace investigations. This way any sanctions can be dealt out consistently, providing a message to your people that such behaviour will not be tolerated.
Set up an Employee Resource Group
To foster an environment of inclusiveness and help those from marginalised groups feel less excluded, set up an Employee Resource Group. These employee networks provide a safe and trusting space for people with shared identities, experiences or goals to support each other and suggest ways to overcome issues that may exist in their workplace.
Tell Jane can support you in creating a workplace that actively discourages exclusion. As well as anti-bullying and harassment training, our expert HR practitioners can manage workplace investigations, help you set up an ERG and provide you with an anonymous employee hotline. Simply email email@example.com to find out more.
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