Career coach: Act now to stop bullying at work

Bullying is thought to be the cause of up to half of stress-related illnesses.

Article one of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

If we take this as a basic position for a minimum standard of rights for everyone, what justification can there possibly be for bullying in the workplace? Yet bullying at work is prevalent and is estimated to be responsible for between a third and a half of all stress-related illnesses.

I still shudder at my own memories of being bullied at school and the fear and anxiety it aroused on a daily basis. It undermined my self-esteem and confidence, and it was difficult to lay those ghosts to rest. With classic feelings of shame and degradation, I suffered in silence about what was happening to me.

Today is the fourth national Ban Bullying at Work Day, which encourages people to speak out against workplace bullying. I am completely behind these sentiments and encourage all voluntary sector employers to take them seriously.

Knowing that people who are bullied commonly do not speak up, what measures might you, as a manager, take to protect your staff, your organisation and yourself from the workplace bully?

Bullying is an abuse of power or position. It's worth paying attention to reports of 'personality clashes' and 'bad attitudes' at work to see whether you can find out more about what causes them. These terms might indicate something more insidious and could give you the opportunity to nip unacceptable behaviour in the bud. Keep a record of incidents that you believe might indicate harassment or bullying. Don't ignore talk of ongoing criticism and marginalisation, and be aware that bullying could take place in your organisation.

The Andrea Adams Trust (www.andreaadamstrust.org) gives advice on workplace bullying and suggests introducing stress audits and communicating to staff a genuine wish for dignity at work. It's important to formulate and establish separate policies and procedures for dealing specifically with workplace bullying. These should make it clear to all staff that such behaviour will not be tolerated. You should also ensure that grievance procedures are effective. Providing selected staff with specialist training and working to raise awareness of the subject are also recommended.

- Amanda Falkson is a psychotherapist who runs monthly Tough at the Top groups for voluntary sector chief executives, amanda@psychotherapycity.co.uk.

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