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Dealing with remote bullying in the workplace

Posted: 27th October 2021

Lockdown saw many people having to work remotely and although there are some key benefits to working from home, it isn’t without its troubles. Just because we aren’t in physical contact with our bosses and colleagues, doesn’t mean that bullying in the workplace has gone away.

Toxic behaviour, offensive language and threatening attitudes can still reach people remotely, whether that’s via email, video calls or social media and when the bullying is coming from colleagues rather than strangers or acquaintances, it’s not so easy to cut it off.

What is remote bullying

Remote bullying comes in many forms and sometimes you might not even realise that it’s bullying behaviour, even though it has a profound effect on your mental health. If you’ve experienced any of the below, then you should think about whether you may have been on the receiving end of bullying.

  • Being excluded from social events, meetings, or important decision making
  • Offensive or intimidating language
  • Sexual or gender harassment
  • Gossip
  • Colleagues or management persistently criticising your work

This kind of bullying behaviour, even when it’s done remotely, can have a serious effect on your mental health. Over time, it could start to affect your sleep patterns. Perhaps you’re suffering from insomnia because you’re feeling stressed or anxious and replay situations or conversations over in your mind. Or maybe the constant worry is causing you to have headaches and your self-confidence is at an all-time low.

Any form of bullying needs to be nipped in the bud. But it’s not always that simple as you might fear that reporting the behaviour could lose you your job or create even more animosity among colleagues. A study carried out by Harvard Business Review prior to covid-19 found that 52% of remote workers felt excluded from decision making and that their colleagues were lobbying against them. While this was carried out by an American organisation, it is likely that following the recent large rise in homeworking in the UK, a similar study carried out in the UK would have similar findings. If you think you are being remotely bullied, ACAS has some helpful information on dealing with bullying and other problems at work.

How to address bullying in the workplace

There are several ways for both the victim and the company to deal with workplace bullying. If you are the victim of bullying and you feel confident enough to resolve the issues with the bully directly, this could be an immediate solution. Sometimes they might not realise the distress that they are causing you and when confronted calmly, they might start to change their behaviour. However, if you don’t feel that this is an option then you should speak to someone in HR, management, or your trade union representative (if you have one) who will then need to deal with the situation. You can also call the free National Bullying Helpline if you need advice and support from somebody not linked to your workplace.

All companies should have a procedures in place that prevent workplace bullying and protect their staff. If the complaint can’t be initially dealt with informally, then further action must be taken.

If you’re an employer or manager, has a helpful article for employers tackling bullying of remote workers.

There is also lots of helpful information on the UK government’s website as well as on the ACAS website (link provided above).

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Business Comment

Business Comment is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s bi-monthly magazine. It provides insight on Edinburgh’s vibrant business community, with features on the city’s key sectors, interviews with leading figures and news on new business developments in the capital.
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