Workplace bully under the cosh

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FOR NINE months, Tim Field suffered constant criticism from his boss before his confidence plummeted to the extent that he applied for voluntary redundancy. He had worked for the same company for the past 15 years - but now a new manager was in place, and Mr Field was no longer valued.

It took another nine months, and a nervous breakdown, before his application was approved - his boss had hoped he would walk out in the meantime and forgo compensation. The experience has turned him into a campaigner: he now works as a trainer to get employers and unions to identify bullying at an early stage.

Surveys suggest that one in two employees has been bullied at work. And bullying does not conform to easy stereotypes. It often happens in charities and voluntary groups and, according to a recruitment consultant, one in four accountants has been a victim.

Bullying usually amounts to unpleasant comments and raised voices. Some managers may set unreasonable targets for staff who are out of favour. Victims are likely to become less productive, and this may be used as a reason for disciplining or sacking them.

However, if a campaign launched last week is successful, verbal as well as physical bullying will be made illegal and employees will have a better chance of winning their case at an Industrial Tribunal.

The first meeting of the campaign group, chaired by Lord Monksfield and backed by Mr Field, took place at the House of Lords last Monday. More meetings are scheduled. The objectives are to set up a telephone helpline, force new legislation on to the statute book, and draw up procedures for employers.

The group has the support of the Industrial Society and many trade unions, paticularly those in the voluntary and finance sectors.

Susan Hamilton Smith, national officer of Unify, the Barclays Bank staff association, is about to survey employees to assess the prevalence of bullying. "In the finance sector there is a great deal of job insecurity, so people are frightened to speak out," she says. "Information technology and deregulation are having a great impact on the number of jobs, so there is a culture of fear."

Chris Ball, national officer for the voluntary sector at the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union, says bullying represents a waste of human resources: "So often people who are bullied end up leaving the organisation. It is a waste of training, it is a breakdown of communications, it is a loss of time."

The Yorkshire Building Society is one of the few employers to have recognised the potential damage to corporate health caused by unsettled employees. A new definition of harassment includes bullying, and it will be grounds for activating grievance and disciplinary procedures. Managers are to be trained in how to recognise bullying, how to deal with it, and how to realise if they are doing it themselves.

Victims of bullying are advised to log all incidents, seek help from their union or staff association and to stand up for themselves without being aggressive.

o Tim Field runs a free telephone helpline on 01235 834548.