One fifth of all employees in the UK claim to have experienced some form of bullying or harassment over the last two years, according to new research.
A survey of 2,000 employees by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that the problem is more marked in the public sector where 22 per cent of workers said they had experienced bullying compared with 17 per cent of their private sector colleagues.
Employees who are bullied are more likely to be depressed and anxious, to be less satisfied at work, to under-perform and want to quit. And according to Mike Emmott, CIPD Employee Relations Adviser, employers need to take the problem more seriously.
"Bullying and harassment is a serious problem in many workplace," he said. "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.
"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. Employees who are being bullied or harassed need to know how to complain, and feel reassured that they won't be victimised if they do."
According to Emmott the difference between the bullying rates in the public and private sectors may not be due to more bullying happening in the public sector but to greater awareness of the issue and recognition of the importance of dealing with it.
The CIPD survey found that groups most likely to become victims of bullying and harassment are black and Asian employees, women and disabled individuals.
Nearly one third (29 per cent) of Asian employees or those from other ethnic groups report having experienced some form of bullying or harassment compared with 18 per cent of white employees.
Employees with disabilities are at least twice as likely to report having experienced one or more forms of bullying and harassment (37 per cent) compared with non-disabled employees (18 per cent).
"Many organisations have anti-bullying and harassment policies, but changing people's behaviour remains a challenge," Emmott added.
"Bullies don't always recognise what they are doing and victims can be reluctant to complain. People need to respect the contribution that others can make, regardless of gender, race and disability."