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Knowing the signs: How employers can spot bullying

Employers have a 'duty of care' for their employees, as well as a moral responsibility and strong business case for maintaining bully-free organisations. But it's not always straightforward for them to recognise bullying in their workplace. What signs can they look for?

Bullying behaviour can be subtle and insidious, and isn't always obvious on the outside. For one thing, behaviours may be explained away by colleagues in benign-sounding terms, such as 'personality clash' and 'bad attitude', that disguise the seriousness of what's going on. What one person thinks is bullying may be considered a robust management style by another.

Employers can help draw the line by setting down examples of unacceptable behaviour. This might include ridicule, public humiliation, unfair treatment, victimisation, exclusion, spreading malicious rumours, personal insults, setting someone up for failure, making threats, constant criticism, blocking promotion and training opportunities.

As well as looking out for unwanted workplace behaviours, employers could monitor absence and staff turnover rates. Unexpectedly high levels should be investigated as they could reveal significant underlying problems.

Bullying damages workplace wellbeing. Evidence of low morale, unhappy employee relations, and dipping performance and productivity could be linked to bullying. Consistent negative reports about certain teams and individuals shouldn't be ignored.

Problems can remain hidden if employees don't have confidence in an organisation's discipline and grievance procedures. Victims fear retribution if they make a complaint, and colleagues are sometimes slow to come forward as witnesses in case the bully rounds on them too.

It's up to employers to provide the protection of an open and supportive workplace environment in which employees know what to do and who to turn to if problems arise. They should deal with employees' concerns in confidence, promptly, fairly and sensitively - and make clear that bullying in all its forms will not be tolerated.

Acas provides wide-ranging advice and guidance on Bullying and harassment and has published the Advice leaflet - Bullying and harassment at work: a guide for managers and employers. Acas also offers practical training to give you the skills and confidence to handle inappropriate behaviour and to tackle Bullying and harassment in the workplace.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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