Managing Workplace Bullying: The Role of Policies

Charlotte Rayner and Duncan Lewis

Introduction 497

The Nature of the Challenge 498

The Process of Policy Setting 501

Sequencing Policy Setting 504

The Contents of a Policy 505

Setting the Scene 505

Dealing With Issues Informally 506

The Formal Process 509

Common Mistakes in Policy Making and Delivery 512

Monitoring and Review 512

Conclusions 513

Bibliography 514


A bullying and harassment policy is the employer’s statement of intent and a summary of processes as regards bullying and harassment at their organization. The role of the policy in the management of workplace bullying is central to all concerned. It is a mistake to think that a policy is used only in situations of formal complaint. All policies outline formal procedures, but an effective policy has a far wider purpose and includes for example, guiding statements about how the organization intends to prevent bullying and deal with bullying if it occurs. As such the policy has two immediate roles—as a statement of intent, and also as a document to guide all stakeholders through the formal and informal processes connected to bullying prevention and intervention (Richards and Daley. 2003; Einarsen et al., 2017).

Those who work in this area know that organizations can have a terrific policy on paper which does not make any difference in the workplace itself (e.g., Ferris, 2004; Villafranca et al., 2018), or that those using a policy may consider it less than helpful (e.g., McNamara et al., 2018). When discussing important elements in polices, we have needed to include facets beyond the detail of what one might expect to find in a policy to include effective communication and monitoring. The nature of the chapter is therefore highly applied and the reader will find themselves in areas rarely touched by academics and traditional academic theory. Research in this area is enormously challenging as all organizations are unique and policies tend to be written or revised only every few years (Gillen et al.. 2017). Hence, we have no systematic data to compare policies and their effectiveness and readers will find no ‘golden bullet’ for success in this chapter. That said, some organizations have made strides in this field, learning as they try different approaches (Rayner and Mclvor, 2008). Studies have also shown that having policies is seen as important when it comes to the handling of individual cases (Einarsen et al., 2017). In this chapter we will bring together our own knowledge and experience from working with employers and the available evidence and literature in the field to outline routes of better practice and highlight avenues of failure in the development and implementation of policies against bullying and harassment at work.

The chapter first considers the nature of the challenge which policies on bullying need to meet. The rest of the chapter follows the sequence of policy making and delivery. First we consider who should be involved in policy setting and why. Then we move onto what should be in a policy; the ‘skeleton’ on which the detail is built. Second, we reflect on common errors associated with policies and what can go awry in the communication of the policy. Finally we stress that if the policy is to be a functional system and a useful tool for the organization, it will need monitoring and review.

The Nature of the Challenge

The introduction to this chapter outlined how a policy on bullying needs to be a statement concerning all aspects of bullying intervention and prevention. To be able to begin to design a policy there is firstly a need to consider the nature of the problem at hand. Academic knowledge here is very helpful to inform the challenge and map relevant aspects.

As will be evident from the first two chapters of this book which address the concept of workplace bullying, there is no definitive list of behaviours which constitute bullying. Also, people can feel bullied because of the absence of behaviours such as withholding information or being excluded from groups and decisions (Samnani, 2013; D’Cruz and Noronha, 2011; Liefooghe and Mackenzie Davey, 2001). As academics we have the luxury of leaving such ambiguities unresolved, instead exploring their nature. The organization has to confront such difficulties and this provides a major challenge for those designing policies and their use (e.g., Woodrow and Guest, 2014).

Lutgen-Sandvik and colleagues have offered a delineation of bullying behaviours using the analogy of a degree of burns, thus ‘third degree’ bullying is greater than ‘first degree’(Lutgen-Sandvik et al., 2007). In their continuum ‘first degree’ is low level abuse that ‘can cause damage over time, but are common . . . and usually quick to heal’, second degree are ‘intensive, frequent and persistent... (and) more painful, while third degree are ‘extremely escalated . . . often result(ing) in deep scarring and permanent damage’ (ibid: p. 855). Most organizations have no problem with committing themselves to dealing with ‘third degree’ bullying, but as the significance lessens, the ambiguities we find in the academic literature are likely to also impact on the organization (Fox and Cowan, 2015). A single dramatic incident may count as bullying, but would the organization take seriously a series of small events which an employee has found very difficult to deal with? Consider also the notion that what is socially acceptable at work (and not acceptable) changes over time (Caza and Cortina, 2007) with social media impacts such as the #Me Too movement quickening the pace of change (e.g., Newell, 2018). As our understanding of what constitutes bullying is constantly under review (Burnes and Pope, 2007), and impacted by context (D’Cruz, 2015), it soon becomes apparent that we seek to define a moving target. As such it is common to find very broad conceptualizations of bullying in policies, partly as a pragmatic response to its complexity (Kulik etal., 2009).

Broad definitions help defend the policy from becoming outdated, and this is the preference for many organizations. On the other hand broad definitions are less useful for the employee who seeks to know what behaviours are acceptable and what are not (Samnani, 2013; McNamara et al., 2018). Hence there is a need for an operational definition which may change—perhaps as part of an employee code of conduct as shown here in a British university ( that includes examples and other associated policy areas such as equality and diversity, conduct, misuse of drugs and alcohol etc.—this allows for more regular/frequent review than the procedural aspects of the policy. Practitioners may look to academic writing for clarity on what bullying is or is not, how'ever as academics’ questions run in parallel to those of practitioners, easy answers will not neccesarily be found. This said, the analysis of the nature of bullying and its precursors (e.g., Salin. 2003), can provide helpful frameworks for structuring the description of the construct.

A related area as yet undocumented in the academic literature on bullying is the notion of variability of tolerance of behaviour within the organization. Is it reasonable to expect the same levels of behaviour from truck drivers and top accountancy employees who all work for the same organization? Academic studies in this area are rare (e.g., Vickers, 2003), and point to dissimilarities in perceptions of ‘acceptable treatment" (Samnani, 2013; Harrington et al., 2013). Anecdotal evidence from studies into complaints suggests that many UK employees think all employees should be treated alike (Rayner and Mclvor, 2008; Woodrow and Guest, 2014), evidence that finds support from the academic literature on fairness and justice (Trevino et al., 2006). While adherence to a one-size-fits-all for behaviours might be preferred by complainants, Catley et al. (2017) found communication of equality so problematic, it is possible that such practice exists only very rarely. The few studies which have examined bullying amongst hierarchical levels have found the same reported incidence at all levels (Hoel etal., 2004), and although the nature of behaviours may be different because different social contexts provide different cues and opportunities (Tajfel and Turner, 2001; Cowan, 2012), allowing variations in tolerance is hard to defend to employees (Catley et al., 2017), or indeed at labour/employment tribunals where employees can cite counter examples that have been allowed to continue unabated. It is important that the ‘variability’ debate is brought into open forum so that assurance of evenness of treatment is publicly noted (Schat and Kelloway, 2003), albeit the academic literature is characterized by reports of neglect (e.g., Thirlwall, 2015) in policies and pleas for better design and implementation of polices (e.g., Villafranca et al., 2018).

At the conceptual stages the organization is faced with tackling the nature of the challenge likely to be covered by a policy with decisions taken at this point working through to define the policy’s scope. Some policies are able to be shortened by linking to other existing policies in the organization (Woodrow and Guest, 2014). By making these connections the organization does not need a second disciplinary policy for workplace bullying, but instead workplace bullying inserted into the disciplinary policy. Understanding how existing policies might be linked is essential as it delineates the boundaries for not only the users (e.g., complainants and trade unions) but those implementing policies (e.g., HR and line managers). An interesting study by Cicerali and Cicerali (2015) on Swedish workplaces discovered that none of the 45 HR managers they interviewed had created anti-bullying policies, mostly because they perceived there was very little workplace bullying in their organizations, a perception with systematic survey support (ibid), yet debatable according to prevalence studies. Thus it may be the case that a policy against workplace bullying is not seen as an effective use of resources, but rather it can be included in a more general set of guidance such as grievance and dispute handling (ibid). This might be particularly the case in smaller organizations lacking in HR expertise, even though small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have been shown to report similar rates of bullying as larger organizations (Lewis et al., 2017).

If the organization does see a policy is required, it will certainly need to cover definitions and redress processes such as formal complaints. If the organization has known issues to do with workplace bullying and harassment, a policy is a good place to start both procedurally and in communicating how the issue is now a focus of attention (Rayner et al.. 2002). How far should the scope of the policy extend beyond the formal complaint system and into informal routes? Arguably bullying is very much a social phenomenon (Lewis, 2002), and hence the informal social context is a prime target for intervention through bystander action (Bowes-Sperry and O’Leary-Kelly, 2005) and also prevention (Rayner, 2005) (see also Niven et al. this volume). Once again, thinking through the organizational appetite for extending the scope of the policy into selection, training, induction and management working practices is helpful to have considered early on, and these linkage issues will be returned to later.

The Process of Policy Setting

One decision that needs to be made when considering a policy on bullying is that of ownership. Where does this policy belong in the organization and who owns it? Much that is written on bullying is from a health perspective (e.g. Vartia et al.. 2003) and some organizations have placed their policy in the health and safety area. There is logic here as one of the main outcomes which cause problems to organizations are related to sickness absence and stress (Kline and Lewis, 2018; Giga et al., 2008). While a health and safety approach may draw on excellence in helping the targets of bullying, the practices needed to prevent or minimize bullying lie in line management, training and the disciplinary/ investigative routes which are normally the province of Human Resource (HR) departments (Fox and Cowan, 2015; Richards and Daley, 2003). Integration into other organizational polices as well as new legislation concerning equality and human rights means that policies on bullying are most usually situated in the HR department (Fevre et al., 2012; Woodrow and Guest, 2014). Whichever department owns the policy, they must be able to exert sufficient influence to enable delivery of the policy itself (Salin, 2009).

Who else should be involved in policy making? At the end of this chapter we will summarize by stating that success is to be gained from buy-in and commitment from all players to undertake whatever is stated in the policy. Conversely, policy failure is related to the organization being unwilling or unable to deliver what has been committed to in the policy statement. The ability to avoid failure lies in starting at the right place—in the policy design process. A large study in the UK (Rayner and Mclvor, 2008) found that organizations reported great benefits when enabling high levels of involvement in the design process. The same study discovered that the best organizations approached bullying as 'our' problem, sharing responsibility throughout the organization (ibid). Hence while a policy may be owned by the Personnel/ HR department, the design process needs to include those who will be delivering the various aspects of the policy, including line-management and agencies such as occupational health, trade unions, counselling etc.

This chapter promotes the importance of involving other employee groups and departments in the design and implementation of an anti-bullying policy. But before we move to expand further we acknowledge an entirely different route discovered by Kulik et al. (2009). Kulik and colleagues found an interesting pattern of HR seeing workplace bullying as toxic and HR as toxin managers. In this instance HR’s attitude was to protect and buffer others in the organization from the negative emotions and attitudes that often exist in workplace bullying situations. While Kulik et al. sought to examine the impact on the HR managers, for us the issue is to ask broader questions. If bullying is hard to define and deal with, and often rests on social norms within the organization, it seems inappropriate to exclude others from redress. While the intention of HR managers in the Kulil et al. study was completely positive and protective of others, by not including ‘others’ in anti-bullying policy design and implementation we consider the organization becomes limited in its learning on the issue and stunted in progress to evolve out of negative situations. In particular, we argue that ownership of bullying as a problem worthy of resolving, is more likely to be attained if there can be effective buy-in from all parties likely to be ultimately involved in executing policy.

If there is inclusion in the policy design, who might be involved? This can include include HR and trade unions or worker representatives (Lewis and Rayner, 2003; D'Cruz and Noronha, 2011) as well as managers and employees themselves (Samnani, 2013). There is a real need to include the hands-on professions who support employees in bullying situations such as occupational health and safety and/or organizational counselling services, mediators, trainers, finance (who will need to monitor extra costs) and diversity/equality officers. Organizations who are at their policy design stage often use advice and guidance from external agencies and professional bodies. For example, in a UK context the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development (CIPD) and the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) offer sensible advice and guidance to ensure legal compliance and equitability. Acas, for example, regularly produces policy discussion papers on a range of matters including bullying (see for example Evesson et al., 2015; Lewis, 2006). Support from the Chief Executive or senior management team is needed to add validity to the whole exercise and host the passage of the policy through to organizational approval. There is even scope to appoint a NonExecutive Director at Board level to ensure Board agreement. Polices which are not supported by upper management and the Board will fail.

The final aspect of this first step is to consider what type of policy the organization wants. Unfortunately, no current data exists on organizational practices worldwide, in particular local legislations may be dominant in this choice (Leka and Kortüm, 2008). Nonetheless, there appear to be three main approaches in existence. The first is to have a policy specifically for bullying. This is most appropriate where the law might demand specific conditions be met within a bullying policy as distinctive from other policies. Another approach which has become very popular in Europe in the last few years (where there is frequent new legislation in discrimination, harassment and equality at European Union level) is to combine the areas of harassment and bullying into a single inclusive policy. Finally, instead of an anti-bullying policy one might choose a positively-termed ‘Dignity at work’ policy which positive organization scholarship colleagues would promote (e.g., Cameron and Spreitzer, 2013). Those who prefer the latter suggest it is easier and more functional to encourage employees to go towards a positive statement and embed ‘good behaviour’ into the organization, effectively using all aspects of anti-bullying policies when they examine situations where dignity has not been adhered to (e.g., Stavros and Wooten, 2013). Different styles will appeal to different organizations, but in our experience organizations which are more mature in their approach generally take a ‘dignity’ approach. Yet, we have seen good organizations using any of these three approaches as in the end it is implementation which matters the most.

Sequencing Policy Setting

If the route of participative policy setting is adopted, then it is often helpful to bring together a steering group very early on in an open discussion forum to flush-out early concerns with the existing system (or lack of systems). For the conveners it is important not to begin by presenting a draft of the new policy, otherwise engagement from participants will be stunted and a sense of ownership lost. Starting with a ‘blank sheet’ will enable participants to see that they are genuinely being involved from the beginning (e.g., Weseler and Niessen, 2016; Costantino and Merchant, 1996).

Often an organization changes an existing policy rather than starting from new. If the current policy is not respected by staff members then it maybe a positive move to begin with a very new format to counter perceptions of a laissez-faire attitude (Pak and Kim, 2018; Skogstad, 2005). Drafts and revisions need to be taken to the group before being signed off at a high level: creating a genuine consultation mechanism that can avoid dislocation from the employee group the policy should be serving (Ferris, 2004). A policy advisory group can be very useful as a mechanism for wider engagement and information gathering, as well as policy reviewing/updating, as the w'hole process of policy development and revision can be a positive engagement experience in itself.

The Contents of a Policy

Setting the Scene

The initial section of a policy should make clear the scope and purpose of the document: the style needs to be welcoming based on a clear statement of intent that is unambiguous in the organization’s opposition to bullying.

The style of writing communicates how much the owners of the policy want it to be used (Pilbeam and Corbridge. 2010). The best organizational policies are short, clear and simple to read, allowing easy access by all staff members (Richards and Daley, 2003). Polices which use inaccessible language or formats risk that staff will interpret that the organization does not want to the policy used (Woodrow and Guest, 2014; Harlos and Pinder, 1999). This is particularly important in countries with transient and migrant populations whose first language is not that of the country where the organization operates. It is also important in organizations with multiple theatres of operation such that policy will need to be as boundary-spanning as feasibly possible. This has recently caused difficulties for a UK university with a branch campus opening in Dubai where concerns have been raised over Lesbian, Gay. Bisexual and Transexual (LGBT) rights (www. newscabal, co. uk/birmingham-university-warned-of-risk-to-lgbt-rights-at-dubai-campus/)—a known high risk group for bullying (Hoel et al., 2014 and Lewis, Glambek and Hoel, this volume).

After introductory anti-bullying statements, a policy will normally move to a definition of bullying. One should not underestimate the amount of reading any definition will receive, and the definition may, in the worst case, become a legal issue, and it should always be checked by a legal representative (Spurgeon, 2003). Most organizations use a very broad definition of workplace bullying which enables the policy to have a degree of longevity over several years as already discussed.

As well as a textual definition of bullying, a set of examples are important in order to ‘bring alive' the issue in context. What is important here is that a full range of behaviours are used, particularly covering a range of diversity scenarios and including unwanted behaviours that may be of a more context specific nature. One might consider cross checking against academic questionnaires, but care should be taken as they can be overly prescriptive (Fevre et al., 2010; Lewis et al., 2009). Generating a set of behaviours can cause debate and might result in unpicking a key aspect for policy writers: how is bullying interpreted within this organization? A question we have already considered above.

These opening paragraphs may need reference to other documents (such as a broader Code of Conduct) or to other policies (such as equality and diversity or sexual harassment) and to sources of informal help should clarification be required regarding the bullying concept. Some organizations have networks (commonly called Dignity Advisers, Harassment Officers, Freedom to Speak Up Guardians, or First Contact Officers in Britain), who are regular employees that volunteer to be signposters and confidential ’listeners’ for their colleagues; however, country-specific mandates such as legal requirements to report incidents classified as breaching legal statute should be borne in mind. For example, in the UK’s National Health Service, the creation of the ‘Freedom to Speak Up Guardian’ (FSUG) role as a voice mechanism to whistleblow/raise concerns by staff would require escalation to the police if patients were being put at risk because of bullying or harassing behaviours. They, or other sources of assistance, need to be highlighted to enable employees to gain clarifications as needed. The statements, definitions, examples and sources of help for clarifying bullying can be replicated in recruitment literature/websites, informational leaflets, induction sessions for new staff, posters, literature used by trade unions, and all other information sources such as workplace posters, e-mails and staff surveys. A coherent approach is created for employees and is likely to heighten the perception of organizational intent from the employer. Inconsistency is likely to reduce faith in any system and leave the organization vulnerable to legal action (Yamada, 2000).

Why bother with these extensive considerations and care for consistency? Early intervention can stop situations escalating (Branch Ramsay and Barker, 2013; Andersson and Pearson, 1999) and avoid an expensive formal process. Add to this the avoidance of prolonged stress on both target, accused and work colleagues and related sickness absence or risk of personnel leaving their job, the argument for early informal resolution is both financially and morally sound (Kline and Lewis, 2018; Einarsen et al., 2017). To use such informal systems, the organization has to be alert to situations of low-level conflict, and clear examples can enable employees to know a situation is not right and prompt informal and speedy resolution. It is to these systems that we now turn.

Dealing With If there is acceptance of the position that many situations of bul-Issues Informally lying can be described as escalated conflict (Leymann. 1996), it is often argued that bullying is a failure of ordinary line management’s ability to detect and deal with negative experiences quickly. To limit trauma to those involved, the speed, skills and confidence of those who may potentially defuse and resolve the conflict situation are salient (intervention). Line management are likely to be closest and best able to intervene, but are even more effective if working in conjunction with trade union representatives (Saundry et al., 2011). Ideally managers can seek out potentially damaging behaviours in a proactive, preventative manner. But do they have the skills and confidence to do so? If the policy suggests (as it should) that line management are the ‘first stop’ then there are training implications to ensure such skills and confidence exist. For example, direct intervention by a manager in a colleague-on-colleague situation needs to be very skilful to avoid escalating the situation. The pressure on managers to expedite productivity means that workplace bullying situations can easily be interpreted as performance management (Johnson, 2015). In the UK, for example, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) recommend mediation skills to be brought into every-day management training so that it is accessible very early on for those engaged in conflict. This, and other management preparation by some larger UK organizations (such as in BT—the UK-based telecommunication company) enables conflict resolution to be undertaken quickly by line management as part of their regular activities. This early first stage is endorsed by many writers in the field (e.g., Einarsen et al., 2017; Keashly and Jagatic, 2000; Zapf and Gross, 2001). However, we outline an important caveat here, in some countries such as the UK, where much reported bullying is from line managers, it is important that policy makes clear the alternative pathways to raise concerns about bullying are always there, and especially so when involving a line manager (or even senior manager) that are safe and confidential for employees (Fevre et al., 2012).

Larger organizations often have a network of staff who can also be reached. Employees may be reluctant to see their line manager (or any superior) if they perceive them to be the problem or a part of their problem, and any existing network of volunteers may be used at this stage (Harrington et al.. 2013). How much such networks actually advise varies; many HR departments prohibit such staff from giving advice due to concerns about the legal correctness of any advice and implications in the event a case reaches a courtroom. Nevertheless, in many countries there is an implicit duty of care towards all employees—often in Health and Safety legislation—which requires managers to minimize risks to health, for example caused by stress. Naturally confusion can arise for a consumer if the name of the network suggests advice is given! In some countries occupational health services may a better alternative, and labour unions should also be an alternative for informal advice (Vartia et al., 2003).

The military in the UK has recently extended its training of advisers to lower ranks, so that all service personnel can talk to someone close to their own level. In the English branch of the National Health Service (NHS). each secondary care English NHS organization (typically hospitals) has created a Freedom to Speak Up Guardian (FSUG) role to allow staff a conduit to raise any concern about patient or indeed safe working. The FSUG role was created following major scandals in English NHS organizations where staff raised concerns of bullying underpinning poor patient care, but were ignored (Francis, 2013, 2015). In the university sector, the example of Glasgow-Caledonian University is encouraging w'here their group of in-house volunteers advise all parties and are trained to act as mediators at an early stage. Again their group reflects a range of seniority in the hierarchy so that senior staff can mediate for their level and so on. We are not aware of any systematic research that has evaluated exactly w-ho is seen by whom, but as data could be collected straightforwardly and anonymously, this would be a fruitful area for research.

Although it is ideal to leave informal resolution to line management, no organization is perfect and staff may choose to use informal resolution routes (such as advisers) outside the normal hierarchy. What is crucial is that they work and that they provide employees with alternative routes, as such alternatives provide for choices and some control which again may alleviate their stress.

Most written policies progress from definition to the first level of resolution, that of the informal process. Unfortunately, many written policy statements have a short paragraph containing the words ‘Wherever possible informal methods should be used to resolve situations informally', which is then followed by many pages of text concerning the formal policy. The message conveyed by such statements is that the organization is focussed on formal systems. In countries with a tradition of informal solutions (such as in Scandinavia) the situation may be the opposite and more weight should be placed on developing sound formal systems to complement the existing informal ones (Hoel and Einarsen, 2010; Cicerali and Cicerali, 2015). Very often UK HR and trade unions have a focus on the formal, which is understandable (Hoel and Beale, 2006; Lewis et al., 2003), but the reality is that the informal process is completely different from the formal, requiring different skills and approaches (Rayner and Mclvor, 2008) which leverage trust and positive relationships between both parties and line management (Hubert, 2003). In some countries this will be a marked change in role for both groups.

How the bullying policy sits in the organization is important for HR and their understanding of the process. If the approach is to adopt a health and safety perspective, then bullying is a risk which must be dealt with as soon as it is known about and it may affect someone’s psychological health (i.e., it is an organization-owned risk to be dealt with) as explored by Caponecchia and Wyatt (2011) or covered in stress-based employment legislation such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 in the UK. However, most HR departments take a ‘complaints policy’ route where one can only act if a written complaint is received and the complainant is willing for the complainant to know details of the problem as an interpersonal conflict between two or more employees; there is a caveat however, which is if an act of bullying or harassment is clearly illegal, then HR are empowered to act regardless of a formal complaint being received. This can be the source of HR effectively negating the informal stage. It is essential that these ‘competing approaches’ dilemmas are resolved and we would suggest the health and safety angle should predominate. The same issues can affect trade union representatives’ perception of the situation. The policy-drafting process is an ideal place for both sides to work through their protocols to facilitate a balance and compatibility between formal and informal solutions.

The Formal


Some situations cannot be resolved informally. Very often the reality is that mechanisms do not exist or do not work at the informal level as they should do (Salin, 2009). Other times, even effective systems are unable to resolve the situation (Woodrow and Guest, 2014; Kim et al., 2004). Sometimes formal action is seen as desirable from the complainant, HR and trade unions—such as when very serious behaviour is reported (e.g„ overt abuse in initiation rites or bullying by means of sexual coercion) and the organization has to be seen to take action (e.g„ Cox, 2018).

At this stage consideration should then be given to link into existing policies of complaints and the disciplinary and grievance procedure (Cox, 2018; Richards et al., 2003) if these exist. As these are the topics of other academic and practitioner areas. we will not dwell on them (see also Hoel and Einarsen. this volume, on the issue of investigating complaints). Instead we would like to highlight aspects of formal policies which can fail in situations of bullying.

Early resolution is important for the formal stage, just as it is for the informal (Saundry et al.. 2011). The 2015 European Study Framework Agreement on Harassment and Violence at Work found that developments in areas of penalising perpetrators and supporting targets of harassment had shown the slowest development. In recognising the potential under-reporting of incidents because of fear and stigmatization by targets and the assumed likelihood that complaints would not be properly addressed, it is reasonable to conclude that any prolonged exposure to investigative processes could potentially be traumatic. Interestingly, the 2015 European evidence points to countries with the highest concerns about harassment and violence having the lowest share of organizations with procedures in place. As Lewis et al., 2017 showed, with most European workplaces falling into the Small to Medium Sized (SME) category, many employment relations of the types associated with bullying are largely operating under the generic duties of managers who are often owners and thus fear and stigmatization associated with any attempt to engage with a process, however rudimentary, is likely to be a very realistic proposition. Policies which contain service level agreements (such as ‘the investigation will commence within 10 working days of receiving the complaint’) can be useful but should always be prefaced with ‘as appropriate’ to allow for scheduling due to ill-health of one or more parties. All parts of the process need to be done well, and sometimes HR and trade unions balk at time-bound systems as they worry that complex cases will not be dealt with properly and all parties become ‘slaves to the policy’ rather than the policy working for effective outcomes. This dilemma can be resolved through having working practices that allow for exceptions, but where the nature of such exceptions is very well defined (see Hoel and Einarsen, this volume).

Bullying cases, especially where they are situations of many small occurrences, can need a higher level of sensitivity than some other complaint situations (such as persistent lateness or unfair pay). The need for training for investigators and decisionmaking panels has emerged as bullying has been brought onto organizations’ agendas. Royal Mail (the UK’s postal service) has developed a specialist team of investigators who can be called on if line management choose. Our anecdotal evidence suggests that investigators can often spend considerable time working on cases of bullying and thus resourcing investigations are a cost to be borne for those managing the process (Woodrow and Guest, 2014; Fox and Cowan, 2015). Having a team of specialists takes such pressures away from line management. However we would suggest that undertaking investigations is an excellent way of exposing line managers to the nuances and ‘differing realities’ one finds in bullying cases (Rayner and Mclvor, 2008), but would of course require training in order to carry out such tasks. Our experience is that larger and the more mature organizations do use specialist external investigators only in highly complex (hence excessively time consuming) or very high level cases (such as at Board level or senior medical consultants in NHS organizations), with all remaining cases being investigated internally. There are cost and other resourcing implications for undertaking investigations which need clarity at the time of policy making and acceptance of budgetary implications by senior management (see Kline and Lewis, 2018).

In making judgement on cases after a report has been submitted, HR can find a conflict of interest (Lewis, 2003), and inconsistency in outcomes can be perceived (Rayner, 1998; Salin, 2009). If targets are moved after they have ‘won' a case, other employees can become confused; why should a target have to have the upheaval of changing jobs when they have a case proven for them?

A negative aspect of traditional UK disciplinary procedures is the use of confidential non-disclosure agreements (Newell, 2018). In bullying this can leave no feedback loop to the complainant, or indeed the rest of the organization leaving them unable to let employees know' they are taking action. Our work for the NHS, which has an average of 24% of staff annually reporting bullying, harassment and abuse (see Kline and Lewis, 2018) has seen some NHS organizations counter these non-dis-closure outcomes by making generic announcements such as in staff newsletters and bulletins of unnamed staff having left the organization because of bullying and inappropriate behaviour. In another example. Royal Mail now takes a small space in the internal newspaper to summarize the nature of disciplinary outcomes on bullying and harassment to show that there is a penalty for those found to have been bullying. This is a simple and innovative way to close the learning loop and get the unacceptability message across w ithout using any names. Commitment to feedback can be part of a written policy. Other organizations allow the nature of the discipline to ‘get out into the grapevine’ and hence circulate the message to staff. We would prefer to see the former system as it means the organization is dealing with cases as normal routine behaviour and not allowing the possibility of the ‘grapevine’ to get it wrong!

Common Mistakes in Policy Making and Delivery

Bullying is an area about which most employees will have an emotional reaction (Kulik et al., 2009; D'Cruz and Noronha, 2011; Richards and Daley, 2003). Having written the policy, it can be a common mistake to then not promote it effectively which does not confirm any seriousness over the issue and employees notice this (Woodrow and Guest, 2014). If an organization wants a policy to work, they must promote it through embedding it into training, induction, website copies and hard copies for those who do not access computers. Trade unions can be a very useful promoter and of course will do a better job if they have been involved in the process of policy making (Rayner and Mclvor, 2008; Saundry et al., 2011).

Sequencing is critical such that to write a policy and then launch it without giving sufficient training to managers may be counterproductive, hence the implementation of the policy needs to be worked through—possibly via several dummy scenarios—ensuring provision for those using the policy are in place before any launch. Aspects of our final section (5) might be useful to map against pre-launch checklists.

Communication is a common feature to many problems we have come across. Failure to communicate the policy or have it available to hand has already been mentioned. Within the antibullying process, much communication is needed. Protocols regarding confidentiality need to be made and carefully adhered to. Communicating during an investigation (especially if it runs late or is complex) is essential and a mitigating factor for stress to those concerned (Dollard et al.. 2007). Communicating the outcome of any formal complaint and discipline to any party needs to be placed into the wider community to enhance the seriousness with which a policy is taken by the organization. Finally, communicating that the policy still exists after launch is essential. This can occur within the monitoring and review process to which we now turn.

Monitoring and Review

A bullying policy is a whole system for prevention and intervention in cases of bullying. Policies do become out of date, and sometimes external factors such as new law mean review is forced upon organizations. We would argue that any antibullying system needs to have effective monitoring built into the system. How does one know a policy is successful or not?

Staff perception/engagement surveys are now being run in many organizations on an annual basis. This is a good place to pick up on how many people consider themselves bullied (to be compared to the number of complaints received), and over time this figure should reduce. Users’ attitudes towards and use of the various informal and formal mechanisms can be identified in surveys as well as barriers to use (such as not trusting confidentiality) or awareness of systems. Naturally, such figures are only indicators, but over a number of years the organization would expect to see improvement. If none were found, then we would suggest local focus groups, exit interviews and other investigative techniques are used to redesign the system and the policy.

Managers are central to a successful policy by not applying bullying tactics themselves and demonstrating clear leadership in tackling bullying incidents immediately. Hence monitoring managers’ feelings and attitudes about the support in place for them to act effectively is essential. When involved with systems which deal with bullying, the interconnectedness of many aspects of the organization becomes swiftly apparent. Are we hiring and promoting the right people? Do we train in conflict management and mediation? Are we giving our staff an accurate understanding of what is acceptable behaviour ? Are we managing the information flows in cases which are known and being watched by employees? Do we know the risk groups and what are we doing to mitigate against this? Are our decisions consistent; do we avoid accepting cases where managers are put in the spotlight? Do we have any 'untouchable' employees who appear to escape systems or sanction? Are there hotspot areas in our organization and what are we doing about these? We have known many organizations that have struggled with increasing reports of bullying and harassment and can only advise policy designers that you will be judged by employees on your worst cases, not the best ones. As such, close monitoring allows the designers to be aware of seismic shifts (small and large) as employee attitudes make or break the use of such systems. It is essential that formal reviews of the policy and the data connected to it are undertaken at least once a year (Rayner and Mclvor, 2008).


The good news is that a well-designed and coordinated anti-bullying policy can work, but conversely a policy that is designed by one department in isolation from users and other service deliverers can have little or no impact at all. A bullying policy weaves together many strands of the organization—HR functions such as recruitment, selection, training, discipline and complaint systems; trade union activity in prevention, policy promotion and intervention; line management in role modelling and dispute handling as well as helping services such as occupational health, counselling, advice networks and external providers of assistance. The answer to maximising a policy is to ensure two things. First that employees and service deliverers are all involved in its design. Secondly, that dilemmas and discrepancies are actually resolved rather than ignored. The policy can then navigate with the issues and the organization as it matures away from destructive conflict.


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