Bullying in the workplace is far more common and complex than we may think. In a survey conducted at the start of the UK lockdown, 71% of employees admitted to witnessing and experiencing bullying within the workplace. Fast forward to 2023 and 44% of workers are either home working or hybrid working, making potential bullying situations more complex and harder to detect or manage.
This is because there is an ongoing mis conception that bullying is always visible, usually being delivered in the form of verbal and emotional abuse. However, the reality is that it is often subtle. As we continue to work remotely, bullying seems to be ongoing and more often than not, is left unaddressed by employers.
The impact of bullying is varied and can deeply affect a person’s health, morale, productivity and have knock on effect on their work and family life. In extreme cases, it can impact mental health and even lead to suicide. It can also seriously affect employers and colleagues, with bullying impacting morale, retention rates and in turn, can cause financial costs.
As our working world continues to shift in a way we could never have anticipated, businesses who are not set up to accommodate working from home both culturally and digitally, are becoming more susceptible to workplace bullying. So why is this the case?
Employees working from home are experiencing increased feelings of isolation and anxiety. Teams that were once used to working in close proximity are now communicating virtually, leading to less effective communication and team visibility. As a result, workplace bullying may now be harder to detect.
Reports show that bullying is largely coming from miscommunication, such as mis interpreted emails. The increased feelings of isolation and anxiety are affecting employees’ behaviour and how they respond, projecting emotions onto others in a way they typically wouldn’t. A lack of work life balance caused by working long hours means many may feel additional pressure and stress and with all this taking place at home, the effect can be heightened as there is no place to retreat for some peace and quiet.
So how can employers best support their employees? Here are 5 ways to look after employee wellbeing and prevent workplace bullying:
- Make physical and mental health a business priority
A recent UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) showed that mental distress among adults was 8.1% higher than in recent years. Businesses must recognise more than ever that they have the same health and safety responsibilities for employees working from home and have a higher obligation to monitor and support each individual’s physical and mental wellbeing. Mental health needs to be a priority and employers must ensure they keep in touch with home workers, offering additional mental health support and training where required. Prioritising this could see a huge transformation in employee engagement, retention and productivity moving forward.
- Implement greater project transparency
When working remotely, projects should be scoped using greater detail using tools such as project management platforms and timesheets. Adding extra control measures can help plan activities, track progress and give greater visibility of individual workload. Offer opportunities to talk with project teams, HR teams and offer training and additional support where required.
- Line managers should keep in touch
Remote workers need to have direct supervision and access to support when needed. Line Managers should regularly keep in touch to support and also offer opportunities to talk about how the employee is feeling. Popular ways to keep in touch include taking virtual breaks and grabbing a virtual coffee to check in on their team and identify how they are feeling/ if they are suffering any inappropriate conduct.
- Encourage conversations
Whether you have daily team check ins or virtual social gatherings, it can help to encourage people to talk. This is an opportunity to share experiences, feelings and develop a place where people know that they are not on their own. This could also be an opportunity to create a unique ‘drop in’ community specifically designed to discuss feelings, difficulties faced when working remotely and experiences of bullying in the workplace.
- Build relationships and practise being ‘human’
The abrupt move to virtual working as an outcome of the Covid pandemic resulted in a shift in the requirements of people managers. A lack of human contact takes its toll, especially on extreme extroverts. Therefore, the foundation of effect leadership and one of Connor’s core values of being HUMAN become even more important. But how do we do this in the virtual world?
Whether working remotely or in an office, employers must take the opportunity to consider the following:
- How are you keeping in touch with remote workers?
- Are employees showing signs of stress? Watch out for mood swings, loss of motivation, increased emotional reactions and absence from events such as meetings. What can you do to address this?
- Does the organisation require more mental health support or additional online training?
- Who is supporting the leadership?
- Do they need development?
- Is more input from HR required? Are your policies up to date?
- Keep the work climate positive through daily or weekly activities. Taking a moment to check in is helpful, even to ask how people’s weekend was. Quizzes and games are a good way of breaking up the day and preventing workers from feelings of isolation when working from home.
Is your business set up for success in the virtual space, longer term? Whether you require leadership development to lead through change, or organisational change and HR services Connor is here to help. Click here to get in touch.