The more subtle forms of harassment and bullying at work

The more subtle forms of harassment and bullying at work

The more subtle forms of harassment and bullying at work

Most people can easily recognise the more obvious forms of harassment and bullying at work. But what about the more subtle forms of harassment and bullying that can take place in a work environment?
Notwithstanding the ethical and legal reasons to eradicate harassment and bullying at work, being able to feel safe at work is a key driver of employee engagement. And it’s been accepted for a long time now that low employee engagement erodes levels of productivity and levels of customer service. Not to forget the cost and time spent on tribunal claims and reputational damage caused.
To clarify, this is how the harassment and bullying at work is defined as:
Unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual. (Equality Act 2010)
Bullying may be characterised as:
Offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.
However, not all forms of harassment and bullying at work are obvious. Therefore, it’s important to be able to recognise the types of behaviours that are less apparent. We describe these as the more subtle forms of harassment and bullying at work.
Here some examples of less obvious harassment and bullying:

  • In meetings, cutting people off before they have finished speaking. Of course, this may be a bad habit or simply a lack of self-awareness but with a negative intention this can be perceived as harassment and bullying.
  • Somebody taking credit when and where it is not due can also be perceived as harassment and bullying towards the person who genuinely deserves the praise and/or recognition.
  • Withholding or hiding information can also be perceived as harassment and bullying. Let’s face it, knowledge is power.
  • Deliberately delaying and blocking progress of a piece of work, a work project or even career progression, can be viewed as harassment and bullying at work.
  • Not responding to attempts to phone calls, voicemails, emails, meeting requests and even just giving someone the silent treatment runs the risk of being identified as harassment and bullying.
  • Refusing requests for help or not intervening when it’s appropriate to do so can also be an indicator of harassment and bullying. Letting a colleague struggle without offering help is an example of passive-aggressive behaviour.
  • The same goes for intentional exclusions in conversations, meetings or when giving praise and recognition. Where most organisations have collaboration and teamwork on their organisational values, this type of behaviour is clearly at odds with the desired workplace culture.
  • Playing team members off against each other is another power-play that has negative consequences and is counter-productive in terms of teamwork. Game playing has no place in today's modern workplace and this kind of manipulation can be viewed as harassment and bullying.

  • Unrealistic objectives, goals and expectations that set work colleagues up for failure are another example where people can feel put upon. Goals and objectives need to be agreed - we recommend following SMART (Specific, Motivational, Attainable, Relevant and Trackable) as a process to follow.
  • Putting blame on others can be another form of workplace bullying and harassment. A blame culture is unproductive anyway, but when blame is focused on an individual this becomes personal.
  • Finally, last but by no means least, being excluded from work-based social events is another form of harassment and bullying. Giving work colleagues the opportunity to opt-in as well as opt-out is a far more adult-to-adult approach. Freezing people out, or even choosing work-related social events, that would deliberately exclude others, risks harassment and bullying being perceived. 

Of course, isolated incidents do not always constitute harassment and bullying at work. However, being able to identify patterns of these types if behaviours and knowing how to address these sorts of issues is important. This is why we cover these areas (and more) in our Dignity at Work training workshops and courses.
Paul Beesley
Director and Senior Consultant, Beyond Theory

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