According to a European Union survey, some 9% of the workforce - 12 million people - suffered workplace bullying during a 12-month period. If it's happening under your roof, you could face a hefty legal bill for compensation, leaving aside the moral responsibility. So how do you deal with the office bullies?
UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEM. Bullying isn't easy to define, and it can be hard to distinguish from tough, hands-on management. Lynne Witheridge, founder and CEO of the charity Andrea Adams Trust, which is dedicated to countering the syndrome, says: 'Bullying is an abuse of power or position that usually manifests itself in persistently criticising someone, openly condemning them, or humiliating them.' It involves personal attack rather than constructive criticism of a colleague's mistakes.
DRAW UP A POLICY. Afraid so, another policy. Tell employees that bullying is unacceptable, spell out what will be regarded as bullying, and how complaints will be handled. But Tim Field, founder of the Bully Online web site says: 'It is essential that this is not just words on paper. You must have the full commitment of the chief exec or top management, and you must be prepared to train your HR staff to understand bullying and how it works.' Mentoring and assertiveness training can provide employee protection.
SET A GOOD EXAMPLE. 'If people see managers shouting at each other, it will get passed down from the top,' says Dianah Worman, an adviser for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Bullying thrives in workplaces where management is autocratic and people are pushed to the limit.
APPOINT COUNSELLORS. Since most bullying - although not all - is perpetrated by managers against more junior staff, it is vital that employees have a point of contact they can go to if they are being bullied. If there is nobody internally, your employee may take the complaint to a union.
DON'T WAIT FOR A CLAIM TO BE MADE. Look out for the warning signs: high levels of sick leave, escalating staff turnover, reduced productivity and low morale. Together, these can point to a department where bullying is taking place. Appraisal results and employee surveys can also alert you to a problem.
DON'T LOOK FOR BRUISES. 'Bullying is almost entirely psychological,' says Field. 'The problem is that there is usually no physical evidence such as broken bones or even racist graffiti, and the most common outcome when inexperienced people investigate is to say that there is no evidence. But you should look for a pattern of behaviour by the bully which may go back months or even years.'
INVESTIGATE THOROUGHLY. Ask the complainant to write down each incident, with times, dates and details of any witnesses. This helps to weed out malicious allegations. Investigators should be trained to deal with the strategies used by serial bullies, such as claiming that they are themselves the victim.
DON'T LOOK FOR THE EASY WAY OUT. It may be tempting to move the victim of bullying, as they are often less senior and less aggressive than the perpetrator. But Witheridge points out: 'Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the employer has a duty of care for the employees' psychological as well as their physical health. As employer, you have a vicarious liability if bullying takes place in your company, and in some of the worst cases where targets of bullying have committed suicide, employers have been charged with corporate manslaughter.'
DO SAY: 'Persistent attempts to undermine a colleague's self-confidence will be regarded as bullying and disciplined accordingly.'
DON'T SAY: 'It's a dog-eat-dog world. We've no time for cry babies here.'