• Conduct Change

Starting the conversation

Updated: Feb 2

How do we get boards and senior management to talk about bullying?


In 2015, the ACAS helpline received around 20,000 calls related to bullying and harassment. Research has shown that this is on the increase. It is important to acknowledge that this figure is likely inaccurate, and worryingly underestimated, as many do not report cases of bullying through fear of retribution or alienation. Kew Law conducted a survey in 2020, which concluded that 31% of employees felt they had been bullied at work.

Workplace Bullying has a detrimental effect on the percentage of absenteeism and presenteeism within organisations. (Presenteeism - turning up to work with a lack of motivation to function as required.) Which can subsequently lead to an increase in staff turnover and a reduction in overall organisational performance and productivity.


ACAS has estimated that 18 million working days are lost each year to workplace bullying

As the number of sick days continue to increase, due to the stress and ill-effect that bullying creates, boards and senior management need to take a closer look at the issue and talk about it within their organisations.


What is stopping boards and directors having the conversations about preventing bullying in the workplace?


Ignorance and a pure lack of awareness of the culture within organisations is prevalent. A lack of the necessary set of skills and materials to deal with issues of bullying is also extremely common. If an organisation is to address the issue, they must also address how they will do it, acknowledging whether or not they actually have the skills and expertise, either internally or externally, to deal with it and have the foresight to seek that external help if necessary.

It is argued that the biggest issue with regards to bullying is that it is systematic of the culture within the organisation. It is embedded from the top down. When you look at many boards, the relationships and the toxic behaviours within the organisation are the drivers of how the organisation is run. It is an issue that starts at the core, creating a bleeding effect that filters throughout the organisation.


Running a business is hard enough when everything is running smoothly. Instead of looking for issues within the organisation, many difficult conversations are dismissed or palmed off, creating a culture of “just get on with it”. Sometimes stating that the issue will be dealt with if there is a reoccurrence, pushing it down the line and hoping the problem disappears.


Is the lack of action due to senior leaders not possessing the appropriate skills to deal with the issue or being forced into a position of incompetence?


One of the main issues is that employees feel unable or unsafe to step forward and declare that they feel they are being bullied. It is frequently seen that employees are unaware of the behaviours that characterise workplace bullying and therefore are unaware and unsure as to whether they can determine the inappropriate behaviours they are incurring as bullying. As well as not having the sufficient psychological safety within the workplace place to address these issues.

With this being said, businesses have to be open to those challenges and want to embrace the issues being addressed. It is about building a culture where people feel comfortable to go against the status quo and creating a framework where employees are not victimised for making a fair observation or speaking out. Therefore, the need for senior leadership to possess the necessary skills to adequately handle these situations is imperative.


In the case of systemic bullying within an organisation, the consequences for the CEO or a board of bullies is limited as they are in control. The challenge is that they can continue to act with impunity and handle the situation as they desire due to their power. It is then an issue of education - educating people to understand the improvements that can really be made. It's through these public conversations that people will become aware that there is nothing wrong with admitting your weaknesses and accepting help.


When does rigor and discipline, drive and persistency and the desire for achievement and success step over the line into bullying?


Expectations must be set out for the employee and what is expected of the employer. It must be predetermined as to what the employer, the CEO, the managing director really expect from their team and what the team really expect from the managing director. If there is a fracture in expectations, the fissure opens and rigor, discipline, firmness, accurate and relevant timely feedback can be perceived as bullying behaviour. Education is essential!


What happens when the bullying is covert and designed to be destructive?


Some organisations are never going to be willing or prepared to address this as an issue. Culture must change from the top down. Most organisations have the mission and value statement outlined, which depicts what they aspire the culture of their organisation to look like but when you go into the organisation, they are not living those values.


Everybody within the organisation has to take ownership and responsibility of displaying those core values and aims - or at least showing an effort to try and reach them. Creating this safe environment, where the values are known and understood, allows for other employees to feel comfortable, feel that they can challenge.


So, what is the first step for management and organisations in order to start the conversation around Workplace Bullying and improving culture?


Education, education, education! People need to understand and acknowledge that changing the way businesses, directors, boards handle the culture within their organisation and the systems put in place to deal with bullying issues is the first step to improve the issue and starting the conversation.


External organisations, such as: Conduct Change, are there to help educate employees and stakeholders of organisations on the best methods to improve organisational practice. They tailor programmes to the wants and needs of the organisation to help achieve overall success.


If your organisation needs help in addressing these issues, Conduct Change is available to help. Contact us or explore our website for more information.


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