Family Lives Extended News Release: Bullying in The Workplace

Findings from our workplace bullying survey

Respondents to a Family Lives survey found those affected by Workplace Bullying saw a deterioration in relationships with partners, friends and family members. 

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Family Lives’ survey respondents stated:

  • 91% felt that their organisation did not deal with the bullying adequately
  • 73% said the bullying was verbal including threats whereas 60% felt the bullying was social including being excluded, ignored and isolated
  • 70% of survey respondents were female
  • 66% of respondents witnessed bullying at work with 43% stating they were bullied by their line manager, 38% bullied by a colleague and 20% bullied by SMT or CEO
  • 35% of bullying went on for more than a year

Respondents quoted below reported that the anxiety associated with workplace bullying greatly affected their emotional health and wellbeing:

"I was blamed for errors made by other staff so work productivity greatly reduced as I was constantly checking database information that other staff compiled to ensure I was not blamed for any errors. I began taking work home to keep on top of my work but the more I managed, the more I was assigned which made it impossible to make deadlines. I was requested to do work a certain way and then it was denied the request had been made I became anxious, unable to eat and sleep dreaded going to work that I made myself ill until I was eventually diagnosed with anxiety and depression and work stress."

"Sent home after unfounded complaint received, never to return again. No procedures followed, no right of reply. Line manager said I admitted guilt when I hadn't. Denied any information. Procedures not followed. Ignored my request for an informal grievance against perpetrator. Ostracised for two months by all staff and trustees. Stress led me to having panic attacks and a full blown clonic tonic seizure. Secondment terminated. Suffered severe anxiety, and signed off sick for about 18 months. Have written professional evidence of being in positive mental health before this happened." 

"It made and is making me depressed. Strangely, it's never affected my productivity because I have an unusually strong work ethic, and work more then I should. It's been more of a personal struggle, where I've gone from being a confident, strong individual to someone who's doing everything she can not to cry just writing this out. It has destroyed my self-esteem and my belief in myself." 

"High level of anxiety daily. Led to panic attacks and PTSD. The work load became overbearing and was never completed well enough to satisfy the manager. Set up to fail daily" 

"Affects my family life" 

"As a contract worker, I am unable to challenge the behaviour because I worry my contract will not be renewed. Sleep loss. Anxiety attacks. Lack of self-worth. Unhappiness. Lack of confidence in my abilities. A desire to avoid work." 

Jeremy Todd, Family Lives Chief Executive said:

“With New Year Resolutions firmly on the agenda, January is often the month when unsettled and distraught employees actively seek alternative employment. Our survey indicates this is often as a result of a breakdown in employee/employer relations. Family Lives recognises that workplace bullying is undoubtedly going to impact on family life. It would be very hard for anyone not to bring troubles home from work, but the pressure that a situation at work can put on relationships can make family life extremely turbulent. Support is out there and we would encourage people not to ignore incidents hoping that they will rectify themselves. The workplace should be an environment of professionalism, respect and courtesy and whilst many employers are committed to establishing a bullying-free zone, it is clear that work still needs to be done.“

Particularly worrying data highlighted that:

  • 74% of respondents said that workplace bullying affected their family life and close relationships
  • 78% of respondents feel the financial climate and shortage of jobs is preventing individuals from standing up to workplace bullying
  • 48% felt that they need to continue to just put up with the bullying and 20% being signed off work with stress
  • 44% sought medical advice or counselling because of the bullying
  • 44% felt they needed to take official action to get the bullying stop

Quotes from survey respondents bullied by colleagues who felt that HR were not impartial or investigating issues or complaints from a neutral position included:

"HR are there to protect management and the organisation. You are made to feel a trouble causer!"

"If you make any waves, being on a nil-hours contract, it is easy for them to just to give you no more work" 

"Management are very weak and choose to ignore problems, bullying or otherwise, rather than to deal with them" 

"The company is (a) small yet affluent business with under 10 employees all of which have known each other for in excess of 5 years though the industry alone. There is no help, assistance, procedure for an 'outsider' openly discussing the issue creates more problems and more hatred and reaction and segregation." 

"Complaint procedure inefficient. Too quick to listen to excuses from bully and put blame on victim (for) being too sensitive" 

Family Lives’ Tips for Employers Who Wish To Tackle Bullying In The Workplace

  • Establishing an organisational culture dedicated to tackling bullying must be embedded in the Vision, Values and Aims of your organisation and be readily available via any existing staff handbook or HR resource. A bullying and harassment policy must be implemented and awareness of it widely disseminated via internal communication channels, making it clear that bullying behaviour will not be tolerated and those found guilty face disciplinary procedures
  • Educate employees via induction or awareness days on how to make a formal grievance, who they need to speak to (normally their manager) and what will happen after the incident has been reported
  • Provide examples of ‘bullying behaviour’ via any relevant staff handbook so that all staff are aware of their own behaviour and can take responsibility for it and are able to acknowledge that bullying can be verbal, non-verbal, written or physical
  • Anti-Bullying policies must not be a ‘tick box exercise’ but reflect a real commitment to engendering a positive employee environment that is impartial towards all employees
  • Practical next steps include: Training managers to recognise the traits and early signs of potential bullying and harassing behaviour. Encourage them to reflect on their management style as well as that of more forthright, dominant  employers
  • Employers and Employees should be encouraged to address issues concerning colleagues displaying possible signs of embryonic bullying behaviour before a situation escalates and becomes difficult for all parties to manage or achieve a workable     resolution. While employers should encourage employees who feel they are being bullied to initially inform the offender that their tone or behaviour is unwelcome (by words or by conduct), this is not always possible
  • Ensure employees that all allegations of harassment or bullying will be taken seriously, confidentially and that grievances or complaints of harassment will not be ignored or treated lightly and will be investigated impartially and by external independent mediators if necessary

Family Lives’ Key Tips for Employees Who Wish To Tackle or Address Bullying In The Workplace

  • All employees need to commit collectively and as individuals to a zero tolerance policy.
  • Be honest about your own behaviour, be prepared to report transgressions and actively support those that are bullied, don’t hide behind a wall of silence and look the other way when abuses take place.
  •  If ever we needed a policy of ‘stand up and be counted’ it is to combat bullying. Read more information from ACAS on what to do about workplace bullying.
  • You can also talk to other people experiencing workplace bullying in our bullying forum
  • Utilise the power of email and following any perceived transgression, email the person concerned calmly outlining your perception of what took place, what you had been asked to do/or criticised for not doing – this could also form part of a diary of incidents. It may also help the perpetrator to realise you are taking this seriously and will log all confrontational interactions – it will also help you to recollect exact times, dates and issues if a future grievance procedure takes place.
  • For those who are targeted by bullies, the worst feeling is that of helplessness. You can take control again
  • Firstly confide in someone you trust. Then keep a diary logging each and every incident that makes you feel belittled or afraid
  • Note down the names of people who witnessed this. Hearsay evidence is not relevant, so this detail is really important
  • Log what occurred but also how it made you feel. The writing of a diary is quite a cathartic experience in itself and empowers the employee by understanding that it is not them that has the problem, but the bully
  • Contact a solicitor or union member if applicable

Parents, adult carers and family members concerned about other family issues can call the free Family Lives Helpline: 0808 800 2222 or visit http://familylives.org.uk/    

 -ends-

Notes to editors:

  1. Family Lives is a national charity that works for, and with, parents to encourage them to see that seeking support is a sign of strength, and works with them to offer practical solutions and suggestions to their own particular situations and difficulties. Support is delivered through a range of free, flexible, responsive services - shaped by parents for parents. Our services include a free online chat service; a free confidential, helpline 0808 800 2222; Email support parentsupport@familylives.org.uk <mailto:parentsupport@familylives.org.uk> ; parenting groups and workshops; a helpful, interactive website for parents www.familylives.org.uk <http://www.familylives.org.uk> ; volunteer opportunities.
  2. 1543 respondentsfilled in Family Lives’ Survey Monkey on Bullying in the Workplace.
  3. Media Case-Study - Neil Moon is now an avid campaigner of anti-bullying, workplace stress and reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues, please see his video here where he describes his experiences.