The essentials people management: Five ways to end bullying at work

Several leading charities have been affected by bullying. Graham Willgoss gathers some advice on how to prevent it.

Charities are "groaning under the strain of workplace bullying", according to the founder of an anti-bullying website - and the problem is endemic.

"Bullying can occur wherever two or more people meet with the purpose of working together," says Tim Field, founder of Bully OnLine. "It is the common denominator of harassment, discrimination, prejudice, abuse, persecution, conflict and violence."

The British Red Cross, NCH, the Samaritans and the Royal London Society for the Blind have all been affected by bullying or allegations of bullying in the past three years.

So are your managers more Sugar than Handy? Do your employees bully one another to get on in the workplace? And if so, what can you do about it?

Here, HR experts offer five steps charities can take to identify workplace bullying and stamp it out.

1. Limit stress - "Competition for funds and friends in the voluntary sector is cut-throat," says Field. "The result is stress, and the consequence of stress is to behave in ways that are inappropriate to the situations in which people find themselves."

Among the causes of stress Field identifies are understaffing and a culture of long hours - two things the voluntary sector is particularly guilty of, according to working parents charity Working Families.

Its latest report on work-life balance found that more than two-thirds of voluntary sector staff work longer than their contracted hours.

It also found that employees work an average of 23 extra days per year, with one-third of organisations claiming that working long hours is the only way their staff can manage their workloads.

"As a sector that promotes human worth and dignity, it is important these values are reflected in our employment practices," says Sarah Jackson, chief executive of Working Families. "Yet many organisations experience high levels of turnover and absence, and far too many are called to employment tribunals to answer claims."

Jackson recommends monitoring the hours employees work and finding ways to limit extra hours, such as managing time off in lieu and ensuring jobs and projects are adequately designed and resourced. Providing time-management training and introducing flexible working hours to allow staff to balance their work and home lives can also help, she says.

2. Identify bullying - Tell staff it is important to raise any bullying issues, because you cannot deal with a problem until you know that bullying is happening.

"Keep an eye on staff turnover and exit interviews," says Maria Aguilar, principal HR consultant at the HR Services Partnership. "Ask questions if patterns begin to emerge, and manage any individual poor performance concerns.

"Unfortunately, there isn't a clear definition of bullying, which can make dealing with it difficult."

All staff need to understand what sort of behaviour constitutes bullying and that it is unacceptable. This makes it easier for charities to tell employees how they can expect to be treated - even by senior managers.

"The lines between effective supervision and possible harassment, and between bullying and firm management, are always delicate ones to tread," says Elspeth Watt, director of Calibre HR and Training.

3. Be prepared - Have policies in place that deal directly with workplace bullying and make staff at all levels of your organisation aware of them.

"Having a policy in place and effective training for all from the top down is crucial, whether it is in the not-for-profit sector or a big company," says Watt.

Policies on bullying and harassment or dignity at work will help staff know what avenues are open to them if they find they are being bullied, and will help senior managers to be clear about how their organisation will respond to bullying.

"An organisation's managers need to be trained, not just in policies and procedures, but also in supervisory skills," says Aguilar. "Competent, confident managers rarely resort to bullying behaviour."

The Red Cross trained 60 staff to act as facilitators of its equality policy in 2005 as part of an action plan to stamp out alleged bullying after an independent HR audit found that some staff and volunteers felt they were being bullied.

4. Acknowledge there is a problem, if there is one, and ensure that senior staff and trustees are involved early on. Do not leave it to escalate into a formal procedure.

The Royal London Society for the Blind recently paid £160,000 to Tebiena Martin, a former manager, who alleged there was a climate of bullying and fear at the charity. The payment was made after the RLSB admitted liability, six days before an employment tribunal was due to hear the case in May 2004.

"I would have considered an earlier settlement if the organisation's trustees had acknowledged bullying and harassment had taken place," says Martin. "They have never accepted this, despite the evidence of many people."

5. Play by the rules - Under law, an employer has a duty to ensure the health and welfare of a victim of bullying under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Carry out risk assessments - if they reveal a problem, you should look for ways of minimising or removing it.

IF YOU'RE BEING BULLIED ...

Get help - If there is a trade union operating in your organisation, join it. "Unions exist to help you, so use them," says Andy Ellis, founder of www. workplacebullying.co.uk. Also, discuss the matter with your employer.

Talk to the bully - In law, harassment is only harassment if the perpetrator knows it is unwelcome. Although bullies probably know what they are doing is wrong, they must be told. It is important they know that what they are doing is causing you distress.

Keep records of all incidents - You may feel that certain incidents will not be taken seriously, but considering them together can show the scale of the problem. You are more likely to be listened to when you have the evidence, with dates, places and witnesses.

Consider claiming constructive dismissal - If you feel your health has suffered and you wish to leave, the law allows you to collate details of all incidents of bullying and to claim unfair constructive dismissal at an employment tribunal.

Find representation - Facing a tribunal is likely to be easier if you have someone to represent you. Some people win when they represent themselves, but professionals say it is rare and that you should seek the help of your trade union.

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