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Workplace bullies getting away with it

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Bullies in UK offices are using a range of subtle tactics and behaviour to intimidate colleagues at work, according to research by the Chartered Management Institute.

The survey also suggests that their ability to torment is enhanced by increased levels of organisational change and ineffective action by employers.

Findings from the research, which are being released to coincide with the launch of national ‘Ban Bullying at Work Day’ on 7 November, reveal that the harassment is often social in nature.

Asked about behaviour witnessed in the workplace, respondents identified eleven types of intimidation. The top forms included:


  • Power play: misuse of power or position was cited by 70 per cent. Respondents claimed they were also aware of overbearing supervision (63 per cent) and undermining by overloading and criticism (68 per cent)

  • Career closure: 47 per cent said they knew of incidents where opportunities for promotion or training were blocked, 43 per cent also suggested they had seen threats made about job security

  • Word of mouth: 69 per cent said they heard verbal insults aimed at specific individuals and 53 per cent also identified spreading of malicious rumours as a key tactic used by bullies.

The research uncovers a perception that the problem is growing. Almost two-thirds of respondents feel that workplace bullying is increasingly common across the UK.

And 36 per cent believe the situation is worsened because their organisation is ineffective at deterring bullying behaviour.

Asked about how they deal with the problem, only 1 per cent said they turn a blind eye to incidents.

But 71 per cent of managers admitted to spending one day or less dealing with the problem.

Four in ten said they will confront the person behaving in a bullying manner, 11 per cent will involve a senior manager and just 5 per cent seek help from HR teams.

Additional research published by the Chartered Management Institute suggests that the extent of organisational change is a factor leading to examples of bullying behaviour.

The ‘Quality of Working Life’ report published earlier this year revealed that 89 per cent of managers had experienced some form of workplace change in the past 12 months, resulting in behaviour associated with workplace bullies.

The research showed 55 per cent admitting to becoming angry with colleagues, 30 per cent becoming irritable and intolerant and 26 per cent avoiding contact.

Jo Causon, director of marketing and corporate affairs at the Chartered Management Institute, says: “There is a major gap between what managers say they do to deal with bullying and the experiences of those who have been bullied at work.

“No single off-the-shelf policy will suit every organisation, but the organisational culture and management style should make it clear that bullying is unacceptable.

“Shying away from the issue is no excuse and involving senior staff and other departments is essential to protect staff, performance levels and productivity.”

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