In light of Anti-Bullying Week and this year’s theme ‘Make a Noise About Bullying,’ we explore the impact that bullying and harassment has on mental health and explore how employers can reduce its negative impacts.

The extent of the problem

A 2019 CIPD survey found that just over a third of UK workers experienced either a significant incident of conflict or an ongoing difficult relationship over the previous year. 15% of employees had experienced bullying, 4% sexual harassment and 8% other forms of harassment in the last three years.

Impacts of bullying and harassment

Bullying can take a toll on the mental health and wellbeing of all parties involved.  This can lead to heightened stress, mood changes, a sense of isolation and low self-esteem, with associated difficulties such as lack of concentration, lack of sleep and other difficulties, which can in some cases lead to anxiety and depression.

Bullying can also reduce productivity and morale, increasing sickness absence.  In the longer term, it may also lead to increased staff turnover and an inability to attract new staff. According to ACAS, workplace conflict is also estimated to cost UK businesses £28 billion each year.

What does bullying and harassment look like?

Bullying can take many forms. For example, physical bullying, spreading malicious rumours, unfair treatment, regularly undermining someone, overbearing criticism, or denying someone opportunities. All employees regardless of their role can be subjected to, or be perpetrators of bullying, which can be both overt and covert. A 2023 survey found that bullying is often disguised as banter. The increasing use of technology means there is also a need for employers to be aware of cyberbullying.

What does the law say?

There is no legal definition of bullying. However, it is often defined as offensive, intimidating, malicious, insulting, or humiliating behaviour, or an abuse of power or authority which attempts to undermine an individual or group of employees.

Harassment is illegal under the Equality Act 2010 and other laws. Depending on the specific circumstances, bullying may lead to behaviours that could be illegal under discrimination, harassment and victimisation laws.

Employers are responsible for preventing bullying and harassment and should support employees to resolve bullying and harassment informally or via grievance procedures. If this does not work and employees are still being harassed, they can take legal action at an employment tribunal.

5 tips for tackling bullying and harassment in the workplace:

  1. Put in place a clear anti-bullying policy and communicate it thoroughly – This should explain the organisations’ commitment to promoting respect at work and the behaviours expected.
  2. Build an inclusive workplace – Encourage tolerance and acceptance. Provide opportunities to learn about difference, communicate openly and role model positive behaviours through a collaborative management style.
  3. Train staff at all levels– Provide opportunities for all staff to learn about communication styles and how to communicate positively with each other.  Provide training for all staff on what bullying and harassment looks like and how to deal with any difficulties.
  4. Deal with signs of/complaints of bullying and harassment fairly, respectfully and swiftly – Deal with issues promptly to avoid escalation. Remain impartial and maintain confidentiality throughout. Give all parties an opportunity to have a voice and choose their preferred ways forward.
  5. Signpost to and reach out for further advice and support if needed – Reach out to sources of support from your wider support network within your organisation and externally if appropriate and encourage staff to access emotional support throughout.

It is vital for employers to be aware of their obligations and work towards creating a culture of education, self-awareness and respect within their workforce.

PAM Wellbeing provides comprehensive services dedicated to addressing bullying and harassment, such as specialised training, a whistleblowing helpline and an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) offering confidential emotional support to individuals affected by bullying and harassment.

Speak to us today to find out more.