Published: 02/12/2004, Volume II4, No. 5934 Page 38

Employment tribunal cases on workplace bullying and harassment grow every year, and the average time it takes an organisation to prepare for such a case is about 20 days. Add to this the associated costs of around£8,000, and workplace bullying has become too costly to ignore.

A recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development shows that employers' existing policies and procedures abjectly fail to deal with bullying. And the key determinant of an organisation's success or failure in tackling bullying is the behaviour of line managers. Recognition and awareness of workplace bullying is essential.

To achieve this, intervention is required - not to identify and attack but to understand better what is happening in the workplace, and more importantly why it is happening. A culture in which employees are consulted and problems discussed is less likely to encourage bullying than one where there is an authoritarian management style.

A cultural audit should analyse the extent to which bullying and harassment is a concern, identifying any issues that need to be addressed. This should then result in the development of organisational values and beliefs, which define acceptable practices. A specific policy with clear procedures to tackle the issue should be drawn up, making bullying and harassment of any kind a disciplinary offence.

Fair procedures for dealing promptly with complaints from employees should be developed and maintained.

Organisations can also set up an informal support system to assist employees complaining of bullying and harassment, made up of independent volunteers.

Managers carry a special responsibility to ensure that swift and appropriate action is taken when complaints are brought to them. So it is vital to educate line managers and make them responsible for implementing the policy. As important as any formal policy is managers' responsibility to ensure that they conduct themselves in a way that does not bully or harass any other employee, they should set a good example and be aware when strong or firm management crosses over into bullying behaviour.

Complaints can usually be dealt with using clear, informal grievance or disciplinary procedures. In most cases it is possible to rectify matters informally as people are not always aware that their behaviour is unwelcome. An informal discussion can therefore lead to greater understanding and an agreement that the behaviour will cease.

Where an informal resolution is not possible, the employer may decide the matter is a disciplinary issue that needs to be dealt with formally. As with any disciplinary problem it is important to follow a swift and fair procedure, with an even-handed approach to fairness shown to both the complainant and the accused.

Managers should communicate and publicise their stance on bullying and harassment and inform staff of their rights and responsibilities by supplementing basic information with guidance booklets. Specialist training seminars for all employees should then ensure the policy is made effective by providing information and increasing staff awareness of the damage bullying does to both organisation and individual.

Finally, implementation of policies and procedures requires leadership and impetus from the very top. Unless those most senior in an organisation are committed to encouraging an environment that does not support bullying, it will be an uphill struggle.

Lyn Witheridge is chief executive of the Andrea Adams Trust For details of the legal handbook on bullying and harassment, visit wwwandreaadamstrust. org