I guess I’m lucky: I’ve personally experienced bullying in the workplace only once during my career. It was many years ago, but I’ve never forgotten it.
The situation came about following my first ever promotion. We were a relatively small team and opportunities for promotion and development were few and far between.
I realise now that the failure to open up the role to the wider team and lack of a transparent assessment process led to my colleagues’ resentment of me (although I’m certain that none of them would have turned down the opportunity had it been offered to them in the same circumstances).
The announcement of my appointment was made by email with no explanation as to why I’d been offered the position, and I was left to instantly adapt from being part of an established team to managing some of my older and more experienced peers.
The change in attitude towards me was immediate and palpable: the hushed voices as I approached, the dirty looks and turned backs, the talking over me in meetings. My joy at being given this opportunity was crushed and replaced instead with an overwhelming feeling of dread and nausea every morning as I drove to work. I quite literally changed overnight.
Naturally I turned to my line manager for help and reassurance. His response was pretty much “man up” (not in those exact words), that this was all part of my career development. But I was young and inexperienced and had no idea how to tackle this problem without support. So, after a few months of trying to soldier on and “man up”, I left. Despite the organisation seeing promise in me and taking a leap of faith in my capabilities, I feel that they then simply left me out to dry.
Fortunately for me, the ill-effects of that awful experience were short lived, and my mental health somehow remained intact. But I’m all too aware of others who sadly can’t say the same thing.
Did the lack of a fair and transparent selection process cause the attitude change of my colleagues towards me? Without a doubt. Was the poor communication of my appointment a contributory factor of their bullying behaviour? Highly likely. Did my line manager’s failure to address the situation allow it to continue and ultimately lead to my resignation? 100 per cent.
Business owners and line managers have a responsibility to take care of the health and welfare of their people, including their mental well-being. This includes adopting clear processes; effectively communicating company values, expectations and decisions; encouraging a positive working environment; making employees feel secure and supported when relationships have perhaps taken a negative turn.
If bullying behaviour isn’t addressed, at the very least employers risk losing good people; at the very worst, the end result could be much more catastrophic and life changing.
Now being older (much!) and wiser (questionable), doing the job that I do, I know it’s not easy to resolve these types of challenges and many people managers aren’t provided with the skills to even try. Looking back, I recognise that my line manager simply wasn’t skilled or experienced enough to deal with the situation and was avoiding confrontation; he was also let down by our employer.
Don’t turn a blind or think things will improve without intervention (they rarely do). If you or your management team need advice or guidance on how to deal with bullying, build a positive workplace culture or leadership in general, we can help: firstname.lastname@example.org or 0115 870 0150.
Written by Jayne Dunn, our Director of HR Services