Bullying affects one in five employees, finds survey

Bullying and harassment affects 20% of UK employees, according to a survey by a personnel institute. That bullying can lead to depression, anxiety and under-performance at work, it said.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) commissioned a survey of 2,000 employees on bullying and found that one in five of them had suffered from bullying or harassment in the last two years.

"Bullying and harassment is a serious problem in many workplaces and employers need to take the issue more seriously," said Mike Emmott, employee relations adviser at CIPD. "It can damage individuals' confidence, morale, motivation and sometimes their health causing them to be less productive and effective at work. It can also trigger absenteeism, make retention rates go down and both the employer's reputation and bottom line can take a hit."

Bullying is more common in the public than the private sector, according to the survey, and the most likely targets of bullying are black and Asian employees, women and disabled people. While 29% of employees from Asian and other ethnic groups suffered bullying, the figure was just 18% for white employees. Disabled workers were twice as likely to suffer bullying than non-disabled employees.

"Bullying can take many forms, including ridiculing personal characteristics, making unfair criticisms and ignoring people, as well as physical or verbal harassment," said Emmott. "Employers need to be alert to the damage a bullying culture can cause. Line managers need to be able to recognise signs of bullying or harassment and take action to deal with the situation before it gets out of hand."

A worker in the City was awarded a record-breaking £800,000 payout in August when she won a bullying case against her employer, Deutsche Bank. Helen Green was subject to a "relentless campaign of mean and spiteful behaviour designed to cause her distress" that left the 36-year-old on some occasions crying silently at her desk, said the High Court judge who made the award.

The bulk of the award was £640,000 for future loss of earnings and pension. The case relied in part on a law originally drafted as anti-stalker legislation, the Protection from Harassment Act. That law can be applied to employment cases, after a House of Lords ruling in July. That law means that employers can be held vicariously liable for employee harassment, even when it is not guilty of causing or failing to prevent the harassment.

The CIPD survey was carried out by Kingston Business School and polling company MORI.