Preventing workplace bullying

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In schools, we are used to supporting effective anti-bullying strategies for our student community; but what about the adults at work? In this article, Steve Burnage explores how to identify workplace bullying and what action you and the school can take to prevent it.

Summary

  • It is important that staff feel they can report incidents of workplace bullying.
  • Staff should model the behaviour they expect from each other.
  • A staff behaviour checklist can outline what’s expected and staff can be asked to sign it.

Part of any team management role in schools is to take responsibility for the prevention of potentially bullying behaviours and actions. Your role in school as an attendance officer means that you will come into contact with a cross-section of school staff, which can put you in a particularly good position to identify where bullying might be taking place and to help senior leaders address it.

Below are six strategies that can be adopted to tackle the issue of workplace bullying.

1 Learn how to identify bullies

Most of the time, a workplace bully won’t act out in front of a member of the school leadership team. This can make it hard for school leaders to detect bullying behaviour. School leadership should be receptive to the comments made from across the range of school staff and provide a means of them triggering awareness that an issue might be developing.  

 2 Look at the work environment

The school working environment plays an important role in workplace bullying. The more staff members are frustrated and stressed, the more likely they are to lash out at others.

There is a lot that can be done to mitigate this risk. Do different members of staff across the work force have the tools and training they need to do their job? Look carefully at those who report to you or whom you work closely with. Are there bottlenecks in school that regularly cause frustration for you and other team members? These might be communicated to the senior leadership team.

3 Learn conflict management

Learning how to manage conflicts effectively can give all members of staff further tools to lessen opportunities for staff bullying at school. One way to navigate the tricky situation of workplace bullying is to target the behaviour, not the person. When you address the behaviour and avoid personalising the issue, you can manage the conflict more effectively. 

4 Set out clear consequences

If you have a responsibility for a member of staff who is suspected of workplace bullying, then you may need to address the issue with them yourself. Of course, this will depend on the circumstances and context and there may be times when it is more appropriate for a more senior member of staff or someone who is not directly working with the individual to address the behaviour. Either way, there should be clear consequences to bullying behaviour, and all staff should be aware of what these are and where guidance on implementing them can be found.

It is important that there is a willingness in the school as a whole to discuss the issue and you can do this within your own team environment.

5 Offer help and support

It is important that all staff in a school are there to support each other. If you suspect that a colleague may be being bullied, make sure that they know that you are there for them. You might need to communicate this repeatedly, but keep at it. Many victims are afraid to blow the whistle on their bully for fear of reprisal. 

Within your team, strive for open communication, feedback, and discussion about any matter of importance. Outside of your team, consider who you might approach if involved in a bullying incident yourself which is difficult for you to deal with. Staff members should be able to take their workplace concerns outside their own line-management structure without worrying: concerns about bullying and all forms of aggressive behaviour, questions, or suggestions.

However, take care that those involved in the line management of your colleagues are involved if appropriate. If a team leader or senior leader solves the staff member’s problem or fails to give their immediate line manager an opportunity to respond, it undermines responsible decision-making and problem-solving. Most problem-solving should take place where the solution is relevant – closest to the job.

6 Walk the talk – model anti-bullying behaviours

In any professional workplace situation, all employees need to adopt anti-bullying behaviours. Leaders and managers should actively model such behaviours, and if you find that there is an issue with one of the senior leaders, you should have the opportunity to raise this in a supportive and unconfrontational environment.

The anti-bullying alliance has produced a useful audit and action plan for organisations to develop effective anti-bullying strategies. In the audit section, ‘1.3 staff are encouraged and expected to model exemplary conduct towards each other’ (see ‘Form – Anti-bullying audit’ in the Toolkit), it outlines criteria to self-evaluate an organisation’s effectiveness and then shares tips on how to move the modelling behaviour of the organisation forward.

An ethos of modelling behaviour throughout the organisation is the best way for all staff to understand what is and what is not acceptable in the workplace. Some schools do this via an anti-bullying policy or ‘staff behaviour checklist’ (see ‘Checklist – Bullying policies and procedures’ in the Toolkit), which everyone signs, and which describes how they treat each other. Some have a list of words that are associated with their school environment which staff can recall and refer to. These words are often positive behaviour verbs that describe desirable, anti-bullying behaviours.

It is important that role-modelling behaviour is known by all staff, including those who are externally contracted and other regular visitors, since a school anti-bullying strategy is only as good as the behaviours we see and model every single day.

Toolkit

Use the following items in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:

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About Author

Steve Burnage

Steve Burnage has a breadth of experience leading challenging inner-city and urban secondary schools. He now works as a freelance trainer, consultant and author for senior and middle leadership, strategic development, performance management and coaching and mentoring. Steve may be contacted by email simplyinset@gmx.com or via his website www.simplyinset.co.uk.

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