Workplace bullying and disputes: carefully appraising the issues

It is difficult enough to manoeuvre in the wide world and always get on with every person we meet, and these difficulties are magnified somewhat when it comes to working with those we may not quite gel with. Strained relationships in the workplace are a major cause of stress, anxiety and leaving jobs, particularly when these issues involve management and senior members of staff. Indeed, just over half of all workplace disputes and stress is thought to come from strained relationships with colleagues and members of other teams. Navigating the issues, maintaining your position as a reliable member of a team and juggling personal versus professional needs becomes an often all-too-tricky context where tensions can boil over. It is even harder for those in positions of lesser power to feel they can speak up and take action against those who are oppressing them – especially if that individual is their manager or senior.

As many as 1 in 4 members of a workforce surveyed in a large study at the University of Manchester had been bullied in the previous 5 years. But what actually counts as a simple dispute, and when does this transform into more mean, personal bullying? It could be something as simple as shouting unnecessarily at individuals, talking in a condescending manner or being hyper-critical of an employee’s otherwise good performance at work. This can sometimes be more subtle and complex, such as constant negative appraisal of work, blocking their opportunities to get promoted, always giving trivial tasks and even sabotaging individual’s workflow by the over-loading of work.

So how can these issues be navigated? Often, certain personality types do clash, particularly in the ‘luck of the draw’ of a workplace, where many different and diverse people are put into the same organisation. Furthermore, individual differences in perspective of the world, the way individuals complete work and appraise issues and interpersonal skills all add to the list of minor differences which can contribute to a full-scale conflict. Individuals who have compassion, the ability for abstract thinking and imagining the situation from someone else’s shoes and the confidence to admit wrongdoing often avoid these conflicts themselves, but sometimes become mediators for another workplace conflict.

Individuals often feel trapped when they encounter issues with a member of their team or management, particularly if that same person is the person who has harassed or bullied them. In these situations, it is prudent to attempt to speak to a member of another team, or a more general manager above them to raise the issue. However, often in bigger companies, there may be a lack of availability of contact with higher operating managers. Something which works occasionally is to send a message or anonymous letter raising the issue to other members or a co-worker, where advice can be given confidentially. There are also support services such as the Citizens Advice bureau who deal with legal and policy advise around building a case and clarifying any law infringements in equality acts.

At WorkingWell, we have helped individuals regain a sense of resilience through workshops, personal development and identifying their key personality indicators. Through using more complex identification, we have properly addressed potential issues in personality clashes in the workplace and counselled individuals to better appraise negative feelings. Furthermore, we have good experience in mediating between parties, particularly when dispute involves teams and managers. Finally, we also identify potential company-wide culture and issues through our diagnostic testing, which allows a profile of the company as a whole. This helps to address the roots of bullying or harassing behaviour by better understanding the cultures and sub cultures of teams and the way tensions at any point in the company ‘tree’ can add to disputes. Even more tricky issues such as employees feeling undervalued and wrongly blaming managers can be addressed through team workshops, adding a sense of belonging and restoring the feeling of appreciation, which goes along way in keeping relationships civil and professional.

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