Bullying and harassment in the hybrid workplace

Lizzie Buxton

Written By AdviserPlus

17th November 2021

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You may expect that bullying has become less of an issue in the hybrid workplace. After all, how can a colleague bully you when you’re working apart? The reality is quite different.

Earlier this year, a survey by Bupa UK found that the number of employees who reported having experienced bullying has actually increased over the past three years, with rates almost doubling since 2019, indicating that employees don’t necessarily have to be in the workplace to be bullied.

And a new report by Culture Shift would appear to reinforce that finding with two in five employees across the UK having experienced problematic behaviour such as bullying, harassment or discrimination at work.

The research also claims that 42% of respondents confirmed toxic workplace culture has impacted their mental health, over one third of participants felt silenced on issues that matter to them in the workplace, while 29% have taken time off due to an incident that happened at work, such as bullying, harassment, discrimination, or sexual misconduct. A further 41% confirmed bad workplace culture has impacted their productivity and 42% have previously left a job due to negative workplace culture.

Bullying and harassment in the remote workplace

Bullying and harassment is a serious issue that should continue to be at the forefront of HR’s agenda as organisations adopt remote and hybrid working models for the long-term.

In the remote working environment, employers should be especially aware of cyber bullying which could include detrimental or offensive messages sent via mobile phones, or images of colleagues posted on external websites following work events, for which the employer could be liable. Research conducted by the CIPD found that cyber-bullying is more common than inappropriate behaviour at work social events with one in ten employees reporting that it happened.

HR teams need to ensure that a zero-tolerance attitude to bullying and harassment is understood by the entire organisation and that everyone is aware of their rights when it comes to reporting concerns. Employers should put in place a robust and well-communicated policy that clearly states the organisation’s commitment to promoting dignity and respect at work.

In terms of mitigating risk, there are four important steps that HR teams can take:

1. Clarify remote work policies

Review your existing harassment policies, updating any language related to remote working to ensure that the organisation’s stance in relation to employee behaviour is made clear.

2. Make ways of reporting clear

Encourage employees to report wrongdoing and describe how to get help and make a complaint, formally and informally. HR teams will need to ensure that every complaint is investigated, taken seriously and dealt with in a timely and consistent manner. For advice on training or to find out how AdviserPlus can support this, get in touch.

3. Have a well-designed policy

Policies and guidance should be agreed with trade union or employee representatives and communicated to everyone. They should give examples of what constitutes harassment, bullying and intimidating behaviour, including cyber-bullying, work-related events and harassment by third parties and explain that it will not be tolerated and will be treated as a disciplinary office.

4. Prevention is better than cure

Promoting a positive culture at work for everyone based on personal respect and dignity will help to prevent inappropriate behaviour starting. Senior leaders should have a clear vision and demonstrate strong values that communicate what a culture of dignity and respect looks like.

While bullying and harassment in the workplace isn’t a new issue, remote working has presented new challenges for businesses with the opportunity for abusive behaviours to go undetected.

Everyone needs to play their part

All individuals have a responsibility to behave in ways which support an inclusive and tolerant working environment. Everyone should play their part in making the organisation’s policy a reality and employers should challenge inappropriate behaviour and take action.

If you do need help with reviewing your existing policies to ensure they’re fit for purpose in a hybrid world or would benefit from your managers receiving training to take appropriate, well-judged action when it comes to investigating claims of bullying or harassment, we can help. Get in touch with our expert team of HR consultants: info@adviserplus.com

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