Employers in Britain are increasingly aware of the problem of workplace bullying and are getting tough in an effort to stamp it out, new research ahs found.
The study of 92 UK employers published by specialist journal IRS Employment Review found that virtually all now had formal anti-bullying or dignity at work policies in place, and that the great majority of policies had been introduced in the past five years.
More than one-third said the issue had moved up the management agenda in recent months.
The researchers uncovered a total of 535 complaints about bullying reported over the past 12 months across the 92 organisations surveyed.
Three-quarters reported at least one complaint in the past two years.
The negative effects of bullying reported by respondents included problems with staff absence (26 per cent of respondents) and turnover (24 per cent), but the most widespread impact had been on working relationships (39 per cent) and morale (28 per cent).
The report warned that those that fail to get to grips with the problem may find themselves on the receiving end of employment tribunal claims under legislation outlawing discrimination and harassment on grounds of sex, race, disability, religion and sexual orientation.
From 1 October 2006, it will also be unlawful to discriminate against, harass or victimise someone at work because of their age.
HR professionals who responded to the survey report positive results from recent initiatives to promote respect at work, and particularly from anti-bullying training programmes. But in some cases efforts are hampered by lack of support from senior management and confusion among staff about the line between strong management and bullying.
HR professionals say the most common problem is that victims are reluctant to come forward and report a bullying incident, making the issue even harder to tackle.
Charlotte Wolff, the author of the report, said: "If anti-bullying tactics are to succeed in the workplace, the message must come from the top of the organisation. Employees need to understand what type of behaviour is unacceptable and know that they will be supported with sensitivity if they report a wrongdoing. Managers need to create a culture that is free of bullying."
She added: "If employers fail to tackle the problem, they will be faced at best with poor morale, higher absence and increased staff turnover, and at worst with a costly and reputation-damaging employment tribunal claim for harassment or discrimination."