Bullying and remote working

Bullying and remote working

Managers are responsible for providing a safe place of work, even when employees are working from home. While some work is not particularly hazardous, an employer should always perform some degree of risk assessment and provide training, support and guidance to staff working at home.

Employers need to consider the psychological safety employees when they are working from home. Are there factors which might increase the stress on employees?  Typically, conflicting priorities or the lack of an ideal workstation, equipment or internet connectivity can contribute to stress levels.

Managers need to be particularly aware of the potential for workplace bullying. The risk of  cyber-bullying always exists, whether people are working remotely or not.  However, remote working can give rise to or facilitate other forms of bullying and their impact may be more acute by virtue of the circumstances. Managers themselves may be more inclined to engage in inappropriate behaviours if they feel unhappy with the complexities of remote working, are less able to assign tasks or monitor performance as easily as they would like.

It is worthwhile recalling what is meant by bullying. It is repeated inappropriate behaviour, direct or indirect, whether verbal, physical or otherwise, conducted by one or more persons against another or others, at the place of work and/or in the course of employment, which could reasonably be regarded as undermining the individual’s rightto dignity at work. There are three areas of concern. There are the behaviours themselves. There is the fact that the impact of those behaviours may be accentuated by remote working, e.g. not having a work colleague to talk to. There may also be a feeling of isolation and not being able to have a complaint resolved quickly and informally.

There are some behaviours which obviously fall into the category of inappropriate behaviour such as abusive language, name calling and even violence. Other inappropriate behaviours are more subtle and these are the ones which can be facilitated by remote working.

Communication can be difficult. There is reliance on telephone – often mobile phones – where calls can go unanswered or poor signal can be an excuse for not discussing a matter fully. Text and email can be abrupt at the best of times. They can facilitate a communication style which is hostile and insensitive – one which would not be acceptable in face to face communications.

Exclusion is another area where inappropriate behaviour can have a huge impact on employees. As team members in a common workplace such as an office, people are aware when meetings are taking place. With remote working Skype/Zoom calls and teleconferences can take place without an employee knowing about them, only finding out afterwards that they have not been included.

Even when employees are included in calls, it is easier for a person’s contribution to be undermined than it would be in a face-to-face situation. When the call is over, the employee does not have the same supports available to them that they would have had if a similar situation had occurred at a meeting.

A key message for managers then is that they must not only be on the lookout for such behaviours, they should be anticipating them. Managers know that remote working presents unique challenges for both organisations and their employees and need to be proactive in putting policies and practices in place which assure the dignity at work of their team members.

Managers should also regularly check in on an individual basis with each employee to ensure that their work environment is one where they can be productive and where their physical and mental well-being is safe-guarded.

Check out our Bullying and Harassment Training for All online course.