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.
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.
Tracey adds: “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.
Tracey concludes: “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.
“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.”
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.
To access the Inner Peace mental health and wellbeing hub along with full information on the support that BHSF can offer, visit: www.bhsf.co.uk
Five steps to prevent bullying in the workplace and when remote working:
When someone is working from home, permanently or temporarily, as an employer you should consider:
- How will you keep in touch with remote workers?
- Does the organisation require more mental health support or additional online training?
- What work activity will they be doing (and for how long)?
- Can it be done safely?
- Who is supporting the leadership?
- Do you need to put control measures in place to protect them?
- Is more input from HR required?
- Keep the work climate fun and positive through daily or weekly activities. Trivia quizzes and other games are a good way of breaking up the day and preventing workers from feelings of isolation when working from home.
Signs of stress in an employee
A change in the way someone acts can be a sign of stress, for example they may:
- take more time off
- reluctance to log on or not attending virtual meetings
- appear more twitchy or nervous
A change in the way someone thinks or feels can also be a sign of stress, for example:
- mood swings
- being withdrawn
- loss of motivation, commitment and confidence
- increased emotional reactions – being more tearful, sensitive or aggressive
BHSF is a not-for-profit health & wellbeing provider, helping to keep employees physically, mentally & financially healthy. Established in 1873, it is one of the oldest names in healthcare serving over 3,000 client companies and many individual customers. Client organisations include Mondeléz International, Jaguar Land Rover, Birmingham City Council, Argos and Homebase.
The Company covers over 400,000 people across the UK under its health and accident insurance policies, serving very many more through Employee Benefits and other services.