A quarter of employees (24%) think challenging issues like bullying and harassment are swept under the carpet in their organisation, a new report from the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, finds. This is despite the impact of the #MeToo movement.

The report is based on two large-scale surveys, one of employers and one of employees. It shows that 15% of employees have experienced bullying in the last three years, while 8% have experienced other forms of harassment. 

The report highlights the critical importance of line management in both causing and preventing bullying and harassment at work. Four in 10 (40%) of those who’ve been bullied or harassed say their manager was responsible, while a third (34%) of employers said one of the top barriers to effective conflict management is that managers don’t have the confidence to challenge inappropriate behaviour.

Only two fifths (40%) of line managers say they have had people management training, leading the CIPD to urge organisations to properly train them, including how they prevent and tackle conflict. 

While the research is mainly UK-based, the findings strongly resonate with the Middle East. Just over a month ago, the UAE and Saudi Arabia introduced or updated workplace anti-discrimination legislation, aiming to promote equal opportunities and protect employees. 

In the region, the diverse nature of the workforce also adds a layer of complexity, which can be the source of tensions and misunderstandings. “Demands on managers are high and more managers based in Dubai are managing wider and wider remits, such as the GCC region or even Middle East and Africa. The pressure to maximise return can have negative impact on management practices”, comments Sara Khoja, Partner at Clyde & Co. 

Ramy Bayyour, Regional Director of the CIPD in the Middle East, adds: “As labour markets in the region continue to evolve, issues like harassment and conflict in the workplace become harder and more complex to manage. Employers should therefore upskill their people and line managers to help them role model positive behaviours, gain the trust of their employees and learn how to manage conflict should it arise instead of ignoring it” “The number of managers who are being blamed for harassment and bullying should serve as a wake-up call for employers to train line managers and put training at the heart of efforts to prevent inappropriate workplace behaviour”, comments Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD. 

In response to the findings, the CIPD is calling for employers to:

  • Increase investment in people management training for managers and provide them with specific training to help them prevent and manage conflict at work, such as by having difficult conversations.
  • Encourage a speak up culture with a clear complaint procedure that’s well-publicised, so staff know how to raise concerns, and who to turn to if their manager is the instigator. 
  • Be aware that there could be times when it’s appropriate to try and resolve the issue informally first, given that bullying and harassment can cover a wide spectrum of behaviour that may, in some cases, be unintentional.

As part of its research, the CIPD also conducted an online focus group with workers who’ve experienced bullying and harassment to better understand the impact it can have. As well as knocking their self-confidence irreversibly, some people said they suffered from stress, anxiety, insomnia, heart palpitations and suicidal thoughts – in turn damaging the company’s productivity and overall well-being.

Further findings reveal: 

  • More than half (53%) of people who’ve been bullied or harassed in the last three years did not report the latest incident. Of those who reported it, only 44% found that the conflict has so far been fully or largely resolved.
  • One in 10 people report being bullied or harassed via email or social media, and/or by phone or text.
  • Being undermined or humiliated in their job, receiving persistent unwarranted criticism and getting unwanted personal remarks were the three most common forms of bullying and harassment. 

Alongside the report, the CIPD has produced a new guide for people managers on how they can best manage conflict in their teams. 

Download the full CIPD report (January 2020) here. 

Download the guide for people managers here.

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At the CIPD, we champion better work and working lives. We help organisations to thrive by focusing on their people, supporting economies and society for the future. We lead debate as the voice for everyone wanting a better world of work.