When most people think of bullying, they imagine physical fighting and obvious verbal abuse, and assume it will be easy to notice and intervene when the time comes.

But bullying and harassment in the workplace can be subtle, and it can be difficult to spot the signs. Sometimes, employees don’t step forward when they’re being bullied – perhaps they don’t recognise it’s happening to them, or maybe the person they’re complaining about is in a position of power.

In the short term, bullying can make employees feel inadequate at work and hinders their performance and productivity. Over the longer term, it can affect their mental health and disengage them from their role and the workplace. Failing to intervene at the right time could also erode trust in management and create more tension in the workplace.

For these reasons, it’s critical that managers learn to recognise the signs of bullying and harassment, so they know how and when to step in. At Engage & Grow, we provide support to managers and HR representatives on how to manage bullying and its effects. If you notice any of the signs, speak to one of our consultants.

Recognising the signs

The subtle signs of bullying can be easy to miss, but managers should be on the lookout for patterns in mistreatment. It could be someone repeatedly intimidating, lying or withholding information from a particular person, or it could be justifying their inconsiderate behaviour.

More obvious signs could include persistent exclusion from meetings or activities, constant unnecessary criticism about someone’s work or behaviour, or not utilising an employee’s skills to the fullest extent.

Perhaps the easiest thing to spot is the reaction of the employee being bullied. If you notice someone has become unusually withdrawn or disengaged in their work – and especially if this occurs over an extended period – talk to them and find out the reason why. Especially if they are feeling undermined by their superior, they may not be immediately forthcoming, but offering your support could make all the difference.

Prevention: Education and culture

From the beginning, managers should take care to foster a supportive company or team culture so that employees know that, if they step forward, their problems will be heard.

Organising group training on bullying – or including policies in the induction package – is a helpful step. If the policies apply to everyone, people don’t feel singled out or victimised for their behaviour and can take responsibility.

Have a procedure

Set out a procedure or plan for what you and other managers should do in case of bullying. Having a go-to checklist of actions for how to spot and mitigate abusive behaviour will make the process easier and more time-efficient and, once again, will also prevent the employee from feeling targeted.

While workplace bullying can sometimes be difficult to spot – after all, managers are busy people and can’t dedicate all their time to monitoring their staff – it’s essential that you watch out for the subtle signs of abuse. Contact the team at Engage & Grow for assistance in intervening at the right moment and creating a culture of support for the affected staff.

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