Career clinic: How do I manage my team without being accused of bullying?

Q: I am a new manager and have been accused of bullying a member of my team after I raised concerns about her poor time-keeping and poor record-keeping. What can I do to ensure I do not end up in hot water for just doing my job?

A: Bullying can occur in many ways. Sometimes it is obvious and easy to identify; at other times it can be subtle and difficult to explain. Unfortunately, your approach to your colleague’s time-keeping and standard of work has been interpreted as bullying. It is likely that this accusation stems from the fact that you have raised concerns, but it is also possible that the worker genuinely believes that you are acting in a bullying manner.

The first priority in dealing with bullying in the workplace is to eliminate it. One effective way is to develop a policy on bullying that is agreed with staff. Such a policy forms an essential part of any approach to managing bullying at work and shows staff that the issue of workplace bullying is taken seriously.

Contact officers

A policy should include a procedure for dealing with complaints, and include the role of contact officers. These officers are specially trained members of the workforce who can help employees who find it difficult talk about bullying with a senior member staff.

You may want to discuss the complaint against you informally with such an officer.

If you are in a union, you may also wish to discuss the accusation against you with your safety representative or steward. They will be able to help and support you in any action taken in relation to the complaint. This may result in an informal meeting to help resolve the issue. Both versions of events should be discussed and agreement sought on action to be taken. This will either conclude that no bullying has taken place because the behaviour was not deliberate, or that bullying has occurred. The organisation’s policy will outline what, if any, further action is needed.

Seek bullying policy

If no policy exists you will need to discuss this complaint with your human resources department, which will be able to offer advice on the action that should be taken.

You may also want to urge your employer to agree a policy on bullying at work for future use. As the manager, you will need to raise concerns relating to the performance of your team without fearing accusations of bullying. This should be dealt with in the manner determined by your HR department and advice should be sought from it on addressing these concerns.

Hope Daley is the head of health and safety at the public service union Unison. Unison’s guidelines on bullying at work

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