Guest blog: Your action plan for dealing with bullying in the workplace

JAN 25, 2021

Since the launch of Riders Helping Riders, one thing that has come up time and time again is the issue of bullying in equine workplaces. We hear so many stories of grooms and working pupils having to put up with unacceptable treatment that we caught up with Iain Hutchinson, an HR Manager for a global UK-based manufacturer, to get some tips and advice on coping with these situations.

Having a positive organisational culture is so important, as that will determine how employees are treated and feel. Different sized organisations have different factors that affect their culture, but ultimately, culture is driven from the top.

Small businesses can be great, as there’s often fewer layers and the personality of the organisation can really shine through. A supportive, understanding boss can have a terrific effect on their people. This positive culture will then be emulated by other people managers and colleagues. Obviously, the opposite is also true – if the head of a small business doesn’t value their people, there’s usually not many mechanisms to challenge and call out any negative behaviours.

Large businesses can have similar factors affecting their culture, but they are also more likely to have a Human Resources person/team and/or an employee assistance programme (a 24/7 outsourced confidential helpline) for employees to turn to. This mediation assistance can help deal with any negative behaviours. The culture from the top still has a huge effect though, as if that person or any of the senior managers don’t value people or treat them well, a negative culture can still exist, regardless of any interventions. In larger organisations, it’s also possible for pockets of negative behaviours to exist and go unchallenged.

Don’t worry, it's not all doom and gloom! Many organisations are great and truly value their people. There’s also the back up of employment law to protect employees, where you can ultimately resign from the company and claim constructive dismissal, if issues don’t get resolved. The only issue with this is that you need to have two years’ service and ideally have gone through the company’s internal procedures to resolve the dispute first. If the bullying has a discrimination element, there is no qualifying service needed.

It will usually take several incidences of abuse for a victim to do something about it. This can be for a range of reasons: because they’re frightened of repercussions, or they don’t want others to think badly of them. Whatever the reason for doing nothing, the fact remains that doing nothing and ignoring the problem doesn’t do anything to solve it. It may seem unfair that you feel ‘I either need to put up with this or leave’ – that should be the last resort, and no one should stay somewhere that they’re unhappy, after all, if the behaviour hasn’t changed over a period of time, why would it suddenly change in the future?

The first thing to realise is that how you feel is how you feel. You can make excuses for people treating you badly as much as you like, but at the end of the day, if it’s making your day to day life unbearable and it’s affecting your mental health, it needs to be dealt with. Likewise, anyone who hurts your feelings may just say they were only joking, or that you should be able to take a joke, but it’s important to understand that it isn’t the intent of someone’s words or actions that matter, it’s the impact they have. Everybody should be able to take responsibility for the impact of their words or actions, regardless of their intent.

So, what can you do if you’re in this situation?

The first thing to do is keep a diary of all the times you experience bullying or unwanted behaviours. This is really useful for a number of reasons, the first being that you’ve got a black-and-white record of everything that’s happened. Even if you’re not sure what you’re experiencing counts as bullying, having it all laid out can help you see if it’s consistent behaviour. You can also examine what’s been happening to you with the benefit of hindsight so that when you choose to take action, you’ve got evidence behind you. In a workplace such as a yard where there’s no HR department, there is often very little recourse for dealing with these situations, but with a diary such as this, you go some way to creating your own.

The second thing to do is to talk to the person whose behaviours are upsetting you, if you feel strong enough to do so. Negative behaviours should always be challenged. This is most powerful when done in person, by the person experiencing the behaviour to the person displaying it. Speak to them in a level, non-threatening way and explain how, without accusing them, their actions are making you feel. Show that you understand that their intent may not be to hurt you, but calmly explain the impact of their actions on you. It’s best to do this as early as possible and nip the behaviour in the bud before it develops into something serious – if you stand up to a bully, they’re more likely to stop. There’s always a chance the person doesn’t appreciate the impact they’re having and may apologise – I’ve seen it done! If they don’t react well, or don’t change, you then have grounds to go further. If you don’t feel able to challenge the behaviour directly, which is completely understandable, you should go to a person more senior to report it, or to HR if you have it. if there isn’t someone more senior and you don’t have an HR person, is there someone else you trust in the organisation? If not, there are excellent organisations like Citizens Advice, who will be able to help https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/work/problems-at-work/. There’s also ACAS https://www.acas.org.uk/dealing-with-workplace-problems.

In addition to the more formal routes of advice, don’t underestimate the power of talking to a friend or family member. Bottling things up won’t help you at all – it will more likely cause things to go on for longer and have a greater effect on you.

Remember that nobody deserves to be bullied. It’s vital to make sure that whatever the relationship, whether that’s with your colleagues or your manager, you need to be your own first priority and protect yourself and your mental wellbeing. If a bad situation doesn’t look like it’s going to change, don’t be afraid to walk away from it. This doesn’t mean you’re giving up, or hiding from a problem, it shows that you respect yourself enough to not put up with bad treatment or bullying. The most important thing is don’t do nothing! If you think it’s worth putting up with as it’s your dream job, it’s really not. No one deserves to go to work unhappy.

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