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How improving behaviour can build productivity

Our behaviour at work underpins our relationships with our colleagues. People may have very different views about what constitutes appropriate behaviour in the workplace.

As Susan Clews, Acas Chief Operations Officer, pointed out in Acas Workplace Trends of 2016, disentangling what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour can be difficult to define and gauge in practice - to such an extent that it's tempting for managers to duck the issue until absolutely necessary.

Poor behaviour a precursor of bullying

But if unacceptable behaviours take root the costs can be heavy, she continued. Bullying, for example, is an extreme form of unwanted behaviour - and yet Acas fields around 20,000 calls a year about it. In fact, recent Acas research has suggested that bullying is on the rise in Britain's workplaces.

Anti-bullying policies are also widespread, but they are not enough on their own, she said. They have to operate in an environment in which people can trust them, and within an organisational culture that supports people who report problems, and that deals with them fairly and effectively.

Environment, culture and managing change

Throw in external and environmental factors and the situation becomes even more complicated.

Poor job design, working intensification, job stress and job insecurity are a breeding ground for negative behaviours.

Restructuring and organisational change are also strongly correlated with increased rates of workplace bullying, especially when change is driven by cost and productivity reasons, she said.

With sensitive and inclusive management being at the heart of any change programme, Acas' report 'pdf icon Building Productivity in the UK [644kb]' and the supporting tools and resources available under each of the 'seven levers of productivity' will have an important role to play for all organisations this year, she concluded.

Acas publications and services

Acas has detailed information for employers and employees on Bullying and harassment, including the pdf icon Advice leaflet - Bullying and harassment at work: a guide for managers and employers [173kb].

Acas' has launched a self-diagnosis Productivity Tool which identifies relevant useful tools and resources to help employers get the best from their staff.

Recent Acas research on how to manage unwanted workplace behaviours successfully is available in the Acas policy discussion paper pdf icon Seeking better solutions: tackling bullying and ill-treatment in Britain's workplaces [429kb].

Acas experts can visit your workplace and work with you to develop a robust bullying and harassment policy and help you deal with related issues more effectively. See Equality and diversity: how Acas can help for more details.

Practical training is also available on Bullying and harassment, Discipline and grievance, improving Skills for supervisors, managing Absence, Having difficult conversations, and Stress in the workplace.

For free, impartial advice and guidance visit Acas Helpline Online.

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


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