Lockdown has created a bubble of pressure and isolation that has increased the voice of the workplace bully. Growing numbers of employees are reporting a rise in ‘out of sight’ bullying as a result of home working and a greater reliance on ‘always on’ technology.
Workplace bullying is a dynamic and complex phenomenon, its causes are often multifaceted and its impact individual and varied. It can have a profound effect on all aspects of a person’s health as well as their work and family life, undermining self-esteem, productivity and morale. For some, it can result in a permanent departure from the workplace and in extreme cases, suicide.
The impact on the employer and work colleagues can be just as damaging, as bullying affects morale and generally negatively impacts all the employees who are exposed to the conduct. In turn, it affects productivity retention rates and causes a serious financial cost to the business.
According to the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) Managing Conflict in the Modern Workplace Report¹ 50 per cent or more of us have been undermined or humiliated in a job. 42 per cent didn’t report bullying or harassment as they didn’t feel action would be taken seriously and 40 per cent of this bullying or harassment was carried out by line managers or supervisors.
Tracey Paxton, managing director at The Employee Resilience Company Limited, a partner of BHSF, explains: “Since mid-March, the way most of us work has changed beyond all recognition. There can be no doubt that taking so many employees out of the traditional workplace environment to instead work remotely from home has accelerated digital transformation. For some, there will be no going back and this ‘pilot phase’ has evidenced a smarter way of working. But businesses who are not culturally open to home working are becoming susceptible to emotional and social dynamics such as workplace bullying.
When working from home, workers can experience an increase in anxiety and increased self-isolation may create a climate where effective communication is undermined as teams that once worked together in close proximity of each other, only now interact on a virtual basis.
There’s a real danger that new work conditions and increased self-isolation may create a climate where bullying is harder to pick up and where effective communication deteriorates because some team members are ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
The main issues of bullying when working from home include misinterpreted emails and wider miscommunication, combined with isolation causing workers to act and react irrationally whilst deflecting their emotion and anxiety onto others. That there are no firm boundaries when it comes to communications outside of business hours creates added pressure. And where instances of bullying are directed at a worker who is working from home, a place that they would normally associate with safety and ‘quiet enjoyment’, the effect can be heightened as the worker has no ‘safe haven’ to retreat to at the end of the day.
Employers have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as for any other workers. When someone is working from home, permanently or temporarily, an employer needs to consider how they keep in touch with remote workers and whether additional training or specific mental health support is required.
Detailed project scoping should be considered, along with whether additional control measures are required for protection such as timesheeting, opportunities for dialogue with HR teams, plus specific training and more informal connections.
There will always be greater risks for remote workers with no direct supervision or anyone to help them if things go wrong. Line managers should regularly keep in touch with remote workers to make sure they are healthy and safe. In addition to more formal interactions, virtual breaks are also a good way for employees to touch base with their colleagues, in an informal social setting for 10-15 minutes of ‘water cooler’ talk, to see how they are coping and whether they are suffering from bullying or other inappropriate conduct.”
Data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) suggested that mental distress among adults was 8.1% higher in April 2020 than it was between 2017 and 2019. So now, more than ever, business leaders need to have their fingers firmly on the pulse of the entire organisation, working together to facilitate everyone’s psychological and physical wellbeing. By prioritising mental health, employers could see a huge transformation in staff engagement, retention and even productivity into 2021 and beyond.
Sharing survival stories is a way of giving hope to someone else. Inner Peace, is our new community hub, which allows users to share their experiences and bullying journeys. This free online community space is designed for people to drop in from time to time and realise they are not alone. We want people to open up and share their personal stories of struggle and whether they have any tips they’d like to offer.
Visit our website to access the Inner Peace mental health and wellbeing hub along with full information on the support that BHSF RISE can offer.