By Nic Sale

In a recent survey conducted by Pearn Kandola, more than two-thirds of employers reported an increase in harassment and bullying in their workplace over the past two years. The remaining one-third reported that levels had remained the same. Estimates of bullying and harassment in the workplace suggest that at any one time, 10-15% of employees experience harassment and bullying in their current place of work.

And yet one third of organisations do nothing to monitor levels of harassment and bullying in their own workplace. A staggering 90% have no idea how much harassment and bullying costs their organisation each year. For some organisations who have looked into this issue, employee replacement costs and employment tribunal payouts alone mount to millions of pounds, before considering wider issues such as loss of productivity, sick leave, time taken to manage the grievance, impact on morale, creativity and turnover — the list goes on.

So, if you’re starting to wonder how healthy your organisation is regarding harassment and bullying, here are some top tips for managing it effectively.

1) Find out what’s going on – and not simply by checking the number of grievances raised. For example, include questions in your staff survey, run a diversity audit or conduct an anonymous sample survey — being careful to differentiate between witnessed, and personally experienced, harassment and bullying.

2) Set the organisational climate — this is one of the most powerful ways to communicate that harassment and bullying is not tolerated. This can be achieved through including harassment and bullying issues in training and development programmes, by sharing (anonymous) examples of what constitutes harassment and bullying, publicising the actions that employees can take if they feel they are experiencing harassment and bullying issues — and publicising the action the organisation will take if employees are found to be persistently demonstrating inappropriate behaviour at work.

3) Review your organisation’s policy — is it clear and easy to understand? Are guidelines available to help people understand what harassment and bullying behaviours are, and how they differ from things like performance management? Is the policy readily accessible and written in an easy-to-understand language? In essence, is the policy a helpful document for all employees?

4) Remember — sometimes a confidential talk is enough… often people who feel they are being harassed or bullied simply want someone to talk to on a confidential basis. These conversations are important in helping people to feel more in control of the situation, to know the options available to them, or to receive a bit of coaching for how to handle the situation themselves.

5) …but you can’t guarantee confidentiality outright — remember that Duty of Care means that if an employee tells you about a particularly serious issue — for example where an employee could represent a risk to other employees – you cannot necessarily maintain confidentiality.

6) Do employees understand their rights and responsibilities under the policy? Are appropriate as well as inappropriate behaviours explained? For example, do your employees know what is expected of them if they witness inappropriate behaviour? Also, do your employees know, and understand, your harassment and bullying policy, as well as their individual responsibility to uphold the policy?

7) Do your employees know what to do if they witness or experience inappropriate behaviour? Assuming that people will speak to their manager or go to HR can be dangerous — 25% are thought to go straight to the formal grievance process while 31% speak to no one at all.

8) Equip key people with skills to effectively manage harassment and bullying. Many organisations find the use of Independent Harassment Investigators, or Mediators, to be key in effectively managing bullying and harassment at work. However, for SMEs, the likelihood of having this resource available is minimal. In these circumstances, it is especially important that managers receive behavioural training in how to address these issues. Critically, these types of interventions can ensure that issues are resolved informally, rather than progressing to the formal grievance stage.

9) Ensure that support is provided to both the claimant and the respondent. Many organisations make the mistake of only supporting the claimant. This can result in the respondent feeling rejected, humiliated and isolated, especially if they have been demonstrating this behaviour for a number of years without being challenged. Many respondents genuinely do not know that their behaviour is inappropriate and benefit from coaching to find alternative ways to approach workplace situations.

10) Review harassment and bullying on an ongoing basis — as people come and go, the culture changes, or the environment becomes more competitive, beware that previously positive working environments can change imperceptibly, but significantly.

Dr Nic Sale is Head of Diversity at Pearn Kandola Business Psychologists. For more information call 01865 516202 or go to