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Monday 15 - Friday 19 November 2021 is Anti-Bullying Week in the UK and in this month’s wellbeing focus we are concentrating on bullying and the effect the experience of bullying behaviour can have on wellbeing. Read more about divisional bullying statistics from the 2021 Staff Experience Survey, recent reports and research, university resources, policy, training and sources of support.

Bullying and Harassment in MSD – the data

In the 2021 Staff Experience Survey, 9% of academic and research staff, and 10% of Professional and Support Staff reported that they had experienced bullying behaviour, and 16% and 14% respectively witnessing bullying behaviour, and only around 40% seeking support for bullying behaviour and 75% knowing how to contact the harassment network. Bullying and harassment can have a big impact on our mental wellbeing. The most experienced behaviours were ‘use of patronising language’, ‘excessive criticism’ and ‘hostility’. Of those who did not report or discuss the incident the most frequently cited reasons were that nothing would happen, that they would be labelled as a trouble maker and concerns about confidentiality.

The 2019 UKRI report ‘Tackling bullying and harassment’ and the Wellcome Trust report ‘What researchers think about the culture they work in’ both paint a stark picture of the reality of bullying culture in the research environment. The Wellcome Trust report form 2020 found that in a survey of over 4000 researchers UK-wide 43% of the had experienced bullying or harassment, while 61% had witnessed it, with disabled researchers and women reporting these behaviours at a higher rate. Many felt bullying and harassment to be culturally systemic and 33% thought that leaders specifically often turned a blind eye to such behaviour. Of these only 37% of respondents said they would feel comfortable speaking out about bullying or harassment.

The effect of bullying and harassment on individual wellbeing can be profound. The effects of these experiences can lead to psychological and physical issues, including stress, anxiety, higher blood pressure, trouble sleeping and more, leading to a loss of self esteem, difficulties making decisions and lower mood, decreased motivation, isolation and unhappiness.

For a fascinating look at bullying, its impact on mental health and anxiety the Department of Experimental Psychology has a podcast entitled Our Mental Wellness: Bullying and Anxiety that is a critical look at how bullying can make us susceptible to anxiety and depression, and conversely anxiety and depression make us more vulnerable to being victimised. This webinar focuses on understanding the thinking and behaviour traps that underlie this association and how to break it.

The University does not tolerate any form of harassment or victimisation and expects all members of the University community, its visitors and contractors to treat each other with respect, courtesy and consideration. There are a number of resources and sources of support if you feel you have experienced bullying or harassment:

Support for you

If you feel you may have been subject to bullying behaviour the Equality and Diversity Unit (EDU) operate a Harassment Advisor Network. These individuals are trained to listen in confidence and without judgement and help signpost you to the next steps should you wish to take these. Even if you are unsure if what you experienced was bullying or harassment, they are there for an informal discussion and a sympathetic ear.

What individuals can do

The University offers online training “Challenging Behaviour: Dealing with bullying and harassment in the workplace” available to book via the EDU Harassment webpages

To understand more about micro agressions and micro behaviours there are a series of videos that explore micro-behaviours and micro-inequities and the important part they play in our working relationships, and in addressing diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

The UK has one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse workforces in Europe and our workplaces are increasingly likely to be a mosaic of races, religions, lifestyles and cultures. “Cultural awareness in the workplace”  looks at the problems caused by cultural stereotyping and misunderstandings, the benefits of diversity and the importance of treating everyone with respect.

Familiarise yourself with responsible bystander intervention actions to equip you with the four types of intervention an individual can take when they are a bystander to inappropriate behaviour or language.

The University's People and Organisational Development (POD) Unit have links to a number of self-access courses and resources on their website, in particular:

What managers can do:

Over and above the individual training above, managers have an important role to play in creating a healthy and safe working environment, and calling out and challenging inappropriate behaviours.

POD have developed an Inclusive Leadership course for managers who wish to create an inclusive culture in their teams where everyone feels that they can be themselves and that their contribution is valued. There are also a suite of manager training courses you may find useful to help you develop an inclusive approach to management, the course ‘Introduction to management’ includes a module on communication, and the difference between being assertive and being aggressive.

POD have developed a Line Managers Toolkit which includes a suite of resources, training and other helpful interventions for managers including guides for how the manage difficult conversations and feedback.