Quarter of UK employees believe bullying and harassment are overlooked

A new report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) calls on UK organisations to train managers to be more effective at managing conflict at work. The report finds that a quarter of employees (24%) think that challenging issues like bullying and harassment are swept under the carpet in their organisation. This is despite the impact of the Me Too movement.

The report is based on two large-scale surveys, one of employers and one of employees. It shows that 15% of workers have experienced bullying in the last three years, while 4% say they have been sexually harassed at work and 8% have experienced other forms of harassment.

The report highlights the critical importance of line management in both causing and preventing bullying and harassment at work. Four in ten (40%) of those who have been bullied or harassed say their manager was responsible, while a third (34%) of employers said one of the top barriers to effective conflict management is that managers don’t have the confidence to challenge inappropriate behaviour.

Only two fifths (40%) of line managers say they have had people management training. This has led the CIPD to urge organisations to properly train them, including how they prevent and tackle conflict.

“A wake-up call to employers”

Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said: “Managers should be important role models, set expectations of behaviour around dignity and respect, and gain the trust of their team.

“The number of managers who are being blamed for harassment and bullying should serve as a wake-up call to employers to put training managers at the heart of efforts to prevent inappropriate workplace behaviour.

“Our research shows that managers who’ve received training can help to stop conflict from occurring and are much better at fostering healthy relationships in their team. And when conflict does occur, they can help to resolve the issue more quickly and effectively.”

The report does find evidence that recent sexual harassment scandals and the Me Too movement have had a positive impact. For example, a third of workers (33%) say they are more confident challenging sexual harassment than they were two years ago.

In response to the findings, the CIPD is calling for employers to:

  • Increase investment in people management training for managers, and provide them with specific training to help them prevent and manage conflict at work – for example, by having difficult conversations.
  • Encourage a “speak up” culture with a clear complaints procedure that is well publicised, so that staff know how to raise concerns and who to turn to if their manager is the instigator.
  • Be aware that there could be times when it is appropriate to try to resolve the issue informally first, given that bullying and harassment can cover a wide spectrum of behaviour that may, in some cases, be unintentional.

“Stress, anxiety, insomnia, heart palpitations and suicidal thoughts”

As part of its research, the CIPD also conducted an online focus group with workers who have experienced bullying and harassment to better understand the impact it can have. As well as having their self-confidence damaged irreversibly, some people said they suffered from stress, anxiety, insomnia, heart palpitations and suicidal thoughts.

Further findings reveal:

  • One in ten people report being bullied or harassed via email or social media, and/or by phone or text.
  • Being undermined or humiliated in their job, receiving persistent unwarranted criticism and getting unwanted personal remarks were the three most common forms of bullying and harassment.
  • More than half (53%) of people who have been bullied or harassed in the last three years did not report the latest incident.

Quotes from focus group with people who have experienced bullying and harassment:

  • “I had to have anti-depressants and counselling. I still can’t go to the town where I worked because of panic attacks.”
  • “Fear is the biggest factor. You’re singled out when something happens to you and it’s having the strength and confidence to see what can be a long and tiresome process through to the end.”
  • “I took a job that probably pays less than I am capable of because of anxiety.”

Alongside the report, the CIPD has produced a new guide for people managers on how they can best manage conflict in their teams.

For advice on ensuring that bullying and harassment are not tolerated in your organisation, email me or call me on 020 7099 2621.