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…