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Jenny Williams | 17 May 2019

Preventing and responding to bullying and harassment in the workplace

A call to action

There is increasing awareness amongst employers of the importance of employee experience (EX); seeing their organisation through the eyes of the employee. In this guide, we explore how inappropriate behaviours such as bullying and harassment affect employee experience.

For organisations and People & Culture teams, focusing on EX means taking a holistic, employee-centred approach to positively influencing what it’s like to work
in your organisation.

Designing for a great EX involves understanding moments. Moments are subjective, first-person experiences.

Moments that matter are times when we can predict an employee will likely have an experience that will be important to them. An employee’s first day, a performance review, how they are promoted, for example, are moments that matter that can be deliberately planned to ensure a great experience.

Moments of truth are times when an employee has an experience that is important to them. A Moment of Truth reveals to the employee their organisation’s true level of care. Policies and processes can help guide leaders in these moments, but what they actually say and do is what matters most. Moments of Truth disproportionately affect employee experience.

Bullying, harassment and employee experience

The ‘employee experience’ encompasses the combined thoughts, feelings, and interactions that employees have at work. When bullying or harassment at work occurs, it significantly affects the employee experience of all involved, including bystanders. Humankind has identified four different types of experience that need consideration to build an environment that prevents and responds to any instances of bullying or harassment in the workplace:

Purpose experiences

These are experiences related to a sense of meaning/purpose in work. They may be sparked by an employee’s connection to your organisation’s purpose, vision,​ or values, and therefore the actions of your leaders that reinforce or detract from those things really matters. If people do not live your values or behave ethically, it’s more likely that bullying and harassment may be present and tolerated in your organisation. The role of leaders is crucial when it comes to preventing and responding to bullying and harassment – they must have the capabilities and confidence required to role model desired behaviours and address issues sensitively and effectively.

Relationship experiences

These are experiences related to employees’ interactions with others, including their relationships with other individuals, other teams, and leaders. How people are encouraged to interact and work together, the level of respect shown, and alignment of goals and motivators all affect the likelihood that bullying and harassment may occur. Is there a culture where people feel comfortable to speak up and challenge negative behaviours in a constructive way before they escalate into bullying?

Enabling experiences

These are experiences employees have related to the resources and support they need to do their job. This also includes the physical and digital environments in which employees spend so much of their working day. These environments should be physically, emotionally and psychologically safe, so that it creates a sense of belonging and allows employees to bring their whole selves to work. How employees interact virtually is just as important as how they interact face-to-face.

Performance experiences

These are experiences employees have related to achievement in their role. The way that leaders and peers set expectations and provide feedback can contribute to whether or not people feel valued for their contribution. Many people find it hard to give and receive constructive feedback, and it is not uncommon for employees to raise claims of bullying when they are going through a performance improvement plan. We often find that the concerns relate more to how the process is managed, rather than a dispute about the performance issues themselves.

Above all else, what we say we do, has to be what we actually do. It is crucial to ensure that when expectations that are set, such as a zero tolerance to bullying and harassment, your organisation follows through in a clear and consistent manner.

Bullying and harassment significantly affects the employee experience of all involved, including bystanders. Leaders need to know how to respond sensitively and effectively.

What can you do to prevent and respond to bullying and harassment?


  • Does your organisation have a strong purpose, mission or vision that people are aligned to?
  • Does your organisation have values that are truly embedded in all levels of your organisation and “lived” every day?
  • What is the culture of your organisation – how things are actually done and what people actually say?
  • Do you have a code of conduct for your workplace?
  • Do you have clear, easy to read, enabling policies that are aligned with your values so employees know what behaviour is okay in your workplace and how they can seek help if they have concerns?
  • Do your policies specify that you have zero tolerance to bullying and harassment, and do the actions of leaders reinforce that zero tolerance?
  • Do your leaders role model appropriate behaviours and promote positive and appropriate workplace behaviours in others or do they act badly or tolerate poor behaviour?
  • Are your leaders fair and consistent, or is there favouritism?
  • Are employees in your organisation willing to speak up about bullying and harassment, regardless of whether they are on the receiving end or are a witness, or do they fear retaliation if they were to
    do so?
  • Does your physical and virtual environment foster a sense of community and allow employees to collaborate and support each other?
  • Do you monitor HR data such as employee absenteeism (particularly sick leave); performance issues; complaints or concerns raised internally and from external sources; exit survey data and employee engagement surveys, which may indicate something is going on in a particular workgroup?


  • Do your leaders know what constitutes bullying and harassment?
  • Are your leaders equipped to identify issues early and respond to them effectively?
  • Do your leaders know how to respond effectively when a complaint is raised?
  • Do your leaders know where they can seek help if they have concerns about any of their employees and are not sure what to do?
  • Do you have a simple mechanism for employees to raise concerns about bullying and harassment in a safe way, or even anonymously?
  • Do you train your leaders and employees to know what bullying and harassment is and what to do if they are present when it occurs?
  • Do you take a consistent approach to instances of bullying and harassment?


  • Do you have systems in place internally to support employees who raise issues or are the subject of a complaint of bullying or harassment?
  • Do employees have access to external, confidential support, such as employee assistance programmes?
  • Are employees aware of where they could seek advice and information, including through unions, Community Law Centres and Citizens Advice Bureaus?

How Humankind can support you to prevent bullying and harassment:

We can undertake a comprehensive independent assessment of the experiences you are creating for your employees, and whether there are factors that may contribute to the occurrence of bullying and harassment in your workplace. We do this through first-hand conversation and discovery, learning the Moments that Matter and the Moments of Truth.

We can work with you to design and test solutions that build a better workplace and develop your desired culture.

We can support you and your employees to co-create and implement:

  • A Code of Conduct and Values
  • A robust anti-harassment policy and processes
  • A Speak Up/internal complaints programme
  • An employee support programme
  • A training programme including leadership training, bullying and harassment awareness and bystander training

We can support you to review your current data and identify how that could be turned into knowledge and insights to monitor and predict employee issues.

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