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HR Insights 
Welcome to our HR Insights page; here we will post our regular blog, providing an insight into the world of HR ~ whether on a general matter or something more specific that is going on in the news. Please feel free to leave us your comments... 

With recent reports on the BBC website showing workplace bullying to still be a problem; we thought we would look this week at What is workplace bullying and how does it manifest itself... 
Image downloaded from 
From my hazy recollection, the issue of workplace bullying first emerged back in the mid-1990’s; not that it probably wasn’t going on before then, that was the time when it entered the media spotlight. Up until that point, bullying was mainly something that was associated with schools; those of you of a certain age will surely remember ‘Gripper Stebson’ from Grange Hill… 
At this time, I was still a fresh-faced HR Adviser in my first job since qualifying and although I was reading about it in my professional journals, the response to bullying was a bit of a slow-burner at first. It took a while before I started to see any real examples of bullying in the workplace and for organisations to respond to the challenges it presented by implementing appropriate policies; but we got there in the end and now most organisations have such policies in place. Consequently, you would think that after 20-years, the problem of workplace bullying would have been addressed and resolved… 
But a recent report on the BBC showed that a survey conducted by solicitors Slater and Gordon had found that 37% of people questioned had been a victim of workplace bullying and a further 21% of respondents had witnessed their colleagues being bullied; so… 
… Why is this still such a big issue? 
One reason is the complexities that bullying brings to the working relationship. Those who are the ‘bully’ are often lacking in their own self-awareness and don’t recognise how their behaviour is perceived by others. 
And for those who are the victims of such bullies, there is a real mixture of emotions going on. Some will remain in denial for some time ~ they believe themselves to be a ‘strong and confident’ person ~ the ‘it can’t be happening to me’ scenario; others will be unsure that the behaviour they are experiencing is in fact bullying and for others, there will be an element of ‘fear’ of reprisal if they speak out against the bully. 
Additionally, bullying behaviour can be both covert and/or blatant. The example we quoted in an earlier blog of Jose Mourinho verbally attacking Eve Carneiro on the side of the pitch as she tried to do her job and subsequently, publicly ‘demoting’ her from the bench are examples of blatant acts of ‘bullying behaviour’. From a HR perspective, these are acts that are usually much simpler to deal with, they are often witnessed by a number of people and it is obvious that the behaviour displayed by the ‘aggressor’ is behaviour which is inappropriate… 
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However, bullying behaviour is often much less obvious and builds up over a prolonged period of time. For example, being excluded from a meeting/social event to which you had previously been invited; being given a workload that is unmanageable; not being given training which is necessary to perform in the role or having critical information needed to do your job withheld are all examples of bullying behaviour. 
As is, having someone constantly picking up on minutiae details such as spelling mistakes. In my first job, I was subject to some bullying behaviour which included this particular example and to make matters worse, I was being criticised for spelling mistakes in other people’s documents… How does that work??? 
Further, bullying is often defined as being a person’s perception that they are being bullied. Perception is something which is highly subjective and personal to the individual concerned; what one person may view as being a comment/act which is intended to motivate them, another person will see as being a threatening comment or action. 
At the other end of the spectrum, are those who manipulate this subjectivity to suit their own ends. Whilst many associate bullying as coming down through the line management chain, there are those cases involving staff who are performing below expected standards, but who then claim they are being bullied when their manager attempts to address this with them. 
With all this complexity then, it becomes easier to understand why the issue still appears to be rife in the workplace and why it remains one of the most difficult complaints for a HR practitioner to investigate. 
Once a bullying complaint has been raised, the key to conducting such an investigation is to establish whether there is any ‘malicious intent’ behind the behaviour; did the ‘perpetrator’ intend to cause the other person any harm by their behaviour or is there a genuine lack of awareness of how they, as individuals are perceived by others. With the former, that is a disciplinary matter and one which in many cases will result in dismissal and the latter often resolves itself with some remedial development. 
Over the years, I have investigated many complaints of bullying at all levels within organisations and one of my most uplifting moments in recent years came after one such investigation. Having conducted an investigation into complaints against a particular individual, I had concluded that the issue was one of a lack of self-awareness and had recommended remedial development. A couple of years later, I encountered this individual in another setting and they came up to me and thanked me for helping them to realise how others perceived them and told me that my report and the subsequent development they had received had been instrumental in them modifying their behaviour and becoming a better manager. 
Going back to the survey conducted by Slater and Gordon; in my humble opinion then, what this highlights is that having a policy in place is not sufficient in itself. If organisations are truly going to tackle the issue of workplace bullying, the policies that are in place need to be supported by proactive training and development for all staff. Training which both encourages staff to reflect on how their behaviour is perceived and which also helps them to challenge behaviour in others that they perceive to be inappropriate. Only when policies and training work congruently, will we start to see these figures coming down… 
Video ~ courtesy of BBC Television and YouTube 
And just for fun, going back to our old friend Gripper Stebson; remember when he got his comeuppance… Here’s a little reminder courtesy of YouTube… 
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