Identifying and preventing bullying

May 24, 2021 | Disputes

We’ve established that bullying can have a devastating impact on your business’s bottom line, and as with anything, prevention is better than cure. But what steps can you take to ensure bullying doesn’t become an issue in your organisation?


Create a positive environment and culture

Creating a positive working environment, where employees feel listened to, valued and respected is crucial. Positive working values come from the top down, so ensure managers in your business lead by example and ‘walk the walk’, both in terms of their own behaviour towards employees but also in terms of the extent to which they take any bullying complaints seriously.

Make sure managers have the skills they need

Because bullying often takes place, or is perceived to be taking place, in the context of supervision, ensure managers are trained and supported to deal with employee issues effectively, sensitively and appropriately, especially poor performance. Managers who don’t know how to deal with the less pleasant aspects of managing staff may be particularly at risk of accusations of bullying. Every manager has to deal with employees making mistakes, or not performing well, for example, but if these are handled in a destructive rather than constructive manner, it can stray into bullying territory.

Constructive criticism is more about actions, facts, examples of behaviour. It is delivered calmly, and looks to achieve future improvement. More destructive criticism might involve excessive blame, personal insults and may be delivered in an irrational or angry way.

Ensure clarity in writing

Make sure you have a bullying policy in place setting out clearly what your business’s values are in respect of how employees are treated and expected to treat each other. Ensure there is clarity of expectations around behaviour, and also clarity about what types of actions or words may constitute bullying.

Outline the consequences of bullying clearly. Setting out in a policy or code of conduct that bullying behaviour will be considered a disciplinary offence, will be taken seriously and may result in a formal warning or dismissal can help reduce the likelihood of bullying occurring – if people think there will be no consequences, they will be less careful. Any policy should also set out clearly what paths are available to people who may feel they are being bullied, including a commitment to addressing issues promptly.


As part of being a manager, employees in management positions should receive some sort of training in how to prevent and address bullying and harassment. It’s important they understand the risks involved, what behaviours to look out for and how to deal with them effectively when they arise.

In addition to training in how to address and prevent bullying, it is sensible for all employees to receive training or guidance in harassment from the point of view of potential discrimination. An increased understanding of the definitions used and protections involved for protected characteristics can help people spot harassing or bullying behaviour more easily, and also avoid treading too close to the line in circumstances where the perpetrator and victim’s perception of the same behaviour can diverge considerably.

Take it seriously when it happens

It’s one thing writing all these commitments in policies, but if when bullying actually happens, the organisation’s response doesn’t mirror its commitments, the likelihood of bullying happening again goes up, and the likelihood of someone reporting it when it does happen goes down, as trust and confidence have been lost.


Despite putting in place whatever measures you can to prevent bullying, none of these are foolproof and you may still come across a problem. And as with many employee issues, the earlier you address it, the more easily you are likely to be able to resolve it.

However, as most bullying takes place in the context of an abuse of power, usually (although not exclusively) line managerial, it is easy to understand why many victims of bullying are slow or reluctant to complain, if indeed they ever do so. This means it’s vital that you are in a position to spot possibly bullying yourself, rather than relying on victims to complain.

You can do this by looking for patterns. Patterns in sickness absence, in productivity within certain teams and in staff turnover can all indicate a possible problem. If you don’t already use them, instigating return to work interviews after sickness absence and exit interviews for leavers may help identify something or give you more information about a potential problem.

Although it’s less scientific, you can also make sure you are aware of those managers or team members who may be more likely to come across as bullying others. In a small business you will know who they are! In the same way, encourage managers to monitor relationships within their teams as far as possible, so that any tensions are noticed and addressed before they escalate

Spotting a problem, or a potential problem early on, can significantly reduce the impact on your business, and can mean the chances of the issue being successfully resolved for both parties are much higher.


If you think you have a problem with workplace bullying and would like some advice, get in touch.