How to handle workplace bullying and harassment during the COVID-19 lockdown

There are plenty of benefits to remote working, but when it comes to the current pandemic situation, the time to iron out the wrinkles and ensure employees are fully supported isn’t always there. As you’d expect, countless employers are dealing with brand-new remote policies that have never been used before.

But one area where employees should always be supported in is the management, reduction and removal of bullying and harassment from their work environment. Whether they’re sat at a desk in the office or on the sofa at home, the same requirements ring true: employees should feel safe at work, and they shouldn’t be in a position where stressful circumstances are being made worse by the actions of their colleagues or leadership.

So, how can you identify and deal with bullying and harassment quickly and effectively in a remote working environment? While the methods may have changed, the toxicity of a harassment situation is still the same – and it’s a must to deal with these kinds of issues swiftly and effectively. Here are just a few of the ‘new’ kinds of bullying you need to keep an eye out for as a responsible employer.

Lack of inclusion and isolation

Jane works as an administrative assistant alongside a broader team in the company. John finds her annoying because she has to have her toddler with her on calls, and as such has decided to cut her out of all future meeting invites. He’s also chosen not to invite her to weekly team Zoom calls.

While it may be more difficult to forget to tell someone about a meeting in the office or fail to include someone in something that’s going on right under their noses, remote working is a whole different environment when it comes to the exclusion and isolation of employees. It’s all too easy for employees to target other staff members by refusing to communicate with them, failing to involve them in work-based required activities or simply leaving them out of opportunities for socialisation.

During an already isolating time, this kind of bullying can take its toll on excluded employees, and at the very least harm their work and mental health. This kind of bullying could also be considered highly discriminatory, particularly in the example provided above.

Cyberbullying through rumours and abuse

Melanie is disliked by Joan, and as such, Joan has spread a rumour that she’s sleeping with one of her managers. Joan and several others in the friendship group from work have a private chat, where they complain about Melanie. When Melanie attempts to email or communicate with anyone in the group, she’s told to ‘figure it out for herself’ or that she’s ‘sleeping her way to the top anyway’.

It may feel like cyberbullying is something relegated to tweens and teenagers, but online bullying between adults is more common than you might think. Typically, this kind of bullying can be anything from talking about another employee in private chats or even sharing photos through to actively abusing or displaying aggressive behaviour towards that individual. Hostile behaviour is nothing new for some workplaces, unfortunately. Still, a single toxic employee can quickly lead to the creation of an us vs them mentality, which is amplified in a digital environment.

Rumours are easy to spread and hard to investigate within instant messaging and email in comparison to within the walls of an office. While the above is an extreme example, these kinds of behaviours are insidious and can quickly spiral out of control, especially in the current kind of ‘bubble’ we’re living in.

Micromanagement and constant demands

Fred is currently working full time from home with his husband, Joe. They split time homeschooling their eight- and ten-year-olds, and as such can’t be at their laptops all day every day. Fred’s manager expects him to respond to emails within two minutes and complete more tasks than he would within a normal working day because she believes he should be in ‘work mode’ at all times since his laptop is there.

Alongside behaviour between same-level employees, it’s also important to watch out for the behaviour of management and leadership during enforced work from home periods. For some managers, micromanagement is their response to gaining control of a stressful situation. With many individuals forced to work in less than favourable circumstances, or even having to juggle childcare and work, these too-high standards and their manager’s constant need for ‘bums in seats’ at all times can lead to increased stress and feelings of harassment.

While managers often don’t consider this behaviour to be bullying, it can be under specific circumstances – and more now than ever before. It’s important to know that we aren’t currently operating under normal circumstances, and that simply being in your seat and answering emails doesn’t make you productive.

How can you handle bullying when working from home?

If any of the above sounds familiar, or you simply want to prevent issues before they occur, the best thing you can do is be vigilant and understanding. By understanding that we aren’t in a normal situation during COVID-19, and that employees simply can’t achieve exactly the same output they could in the workplace, you’re far better-placed to get a look at the bigger picture. Whether it’s sending out information about bullying, or helping managers to better support their employees, simply improving awareness is a good first step, as well as making clear what isn’t acceptable under any circumstances – even when working from home.

Read more about how you can effectively lead a remote team.

HR tips: how to manage your remote employees

With over four million UK workers now regularly working for home, it seems businesses are slowly coming round to the benefits of allowing their employees to work remotely. But, with distractions aplenty, no pressure to be productive and a lack of supervision, how do you ensure flexibility works out for both the staff and the business?

Here are four top tips for managing your remote workers:

1. Set overarching goals

When employees are present in the office, it’s easy to keep an eye on their workflow and what they’re achieving, whether that’s through regular meetings or informal conversations. Forbes recently reported that 93% of employees are at their most productive when they work from home, but how do you translate this into traceable and measurable achievements?

It’s important to set goals to ensure things are getting done, whether on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, but try not to micromanage. After all, if you can’t trust the person to do their job, what are you letting them work from home for?

2. Make use of technology

There are a plethora of online tools and software applications out there to track where people are up to with tasks and to communicate what needs to be done, so use them!

Whether it’s a ticketing system to allow you to know when a job has been completed, a fully-integrated project management system or simply Skype, communication regarding work doesn’t have to stop just because staff aren’t in the office.

3. Be flexible

In an office, 9 to 5 is the norm and is often unavoidable, but such strict scheduling isn’t always necessary when someone is working from their home office.

If employees are required to be online at these times, make it clear to them, but also outline that hours are flexible if other things need to be prioritised. Your employees will appreciate your acknowledgement that a work/life balance needs to be maintained.

4. Be open

Remote working can be isolating. As well as encouraging staff to make use of co-working spaces and the like, ensure you let them know that you’re approachable and there to listen to any questions or concerns they may have. If possible, set up regular face-to-face meetings or ‘office days’ so workers can meet up and talk things through.

At Goodwille, we can act as your HR adviser or provide you with a fully outsourced HR function to keep you up to date with current UK best practice. If you need help and advice on how to manage your remote employees, don’t hesitate to contact us or read more about our HR service offering here.