Charities should appoint leaders for staff wellbeing, report on bullying recommends

The publication, produced by Acevo and the Centre for Mental Health, includes suggestions for the sector and the Charity Commission

Charities should appoint one trustee and one senior manager to lead on staff workplace wellbeing, according to a government-funded report on bullying published today.

In Plain Sight, which was produced by Acevo, the membership body for charity chief executives, and the Centre for Mental Health, includes five other recommendations.

They include urging the Charity Commission to clarify the extent to which it can help victims of bullying and a call for charities to be cautious about using non-disclosure agreements because they can prevent staff from discussing serious problems.

The report also recommends that charity leaders initiate a sector-wide discussion about bullying and workplace culture, which identifies how guidance such as the Charity Governance Code can be applied to address bullying.

Vicky Browning, chief executive of Acevo, described the report as "an important first step".

She said: "We believe that as charities we should be taking a lead on how we tackle bullying in order to create inclusive and supportive workplace cultures."

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport awarded Acevo and the centre £73,000 to conduct research as part of a wider £2m programme to improve safeguarding and tackle bullying and harassment in the voluntary sector.

A total of 524 self-selected people who experienced bullying at charities in England and Wales participated in an online survey in February and March. About 80 per cent were female. Researchers also conducted 20 in-depth interviews.

The research focused on the impact of bullying on individuals, rather than its prevalence or how rates compare with other sectors.

It found that 58 per cent of respondents said they had formally reported bullying but only 3 per cent said their complaint was satisfactorily resolved.

Social bullying (87 per cent) was the most common form of bullying cited, followed by verbal bullying (78 per cent) and cyber bullying (25 per cent).

Senior managers and chief executives were identified as being the most likely perpetrators of bullying, at 57 per cent and 45 per cent respectively.

"What appears particularly notable is the extent to which bullying behaviour can take place in the open, known to many or to all, but in some way also kept out of mind across the organisation and so not challenged," the report says.

The report concludes that bullying is linked to gaps or shortcomings in governance and management and therefore requires an organisation-wide response. Appointing individuals to lead on the issue will help, it says.

Browning said many staff were unsure where to turn to for help and it "was unclear what the commission's role is in terms of people reporting incidents of bullying".

She added: "We want the commission to be much clearer about what it will and won't act on."

Acevo has committed to seven actions, including working with union representatives, to keep the issue on the agenda.

Mims Davies, the Minister for Sport and Civil Society, says in the report that the research is "just the first phase" of attempts to improve charity workplaces.

"Cultural change takes sustained commitment," she says. "Together we want to create a culture where people feel confident talking about and reporting bullying and that there are systems in place to stop it and provide support."

Sarah Atkinson, director of policy, planning and communications at the Charity Commission, welcomed the report's recommendations for both charities and the regulator. 

"We welcome the recommendations of ways in which individual charities and others can help tackle bullying behaviour and improve workplace culture," she said. "Protecting people from harm should be a governance priority for all charities.

"We also welcome the recommendation for the commission. We have changed our practice recently to make it easier for people to raise concerns with us about charities. We want to make sure our role and remit in relation to individual incidents of workplace bullying are clear and understood, and we will engage with Acevo and others in the sector to do so.

"Everyone involved in charities should feel safe, and bullying has no place in society, let alone in charities, whose very purpose is to do good."

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