Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust
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Bullying Harassment - Managers

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Guidance for managers

The difference between a manager who is firm but fair and a manager who is bullying and harassing staff is often ambiguous.  The department for work and pensions equality team have developed a framework to make clear distinctions between the two management styles:

Firm but fair manager

Bullying or harassment

Consistent and fair

Aggressive  inconsistent and unfair

Reasonable and flexible

Unreasonable and inflexible

Willing to consult with colleagues and staff before drawing up proposals

Believes that they are always right, has fixed opinions, believes they know best and not prepared to value other peoples opinions

Insists upon high standards of service in quality of and behaviour in the team

Insists upon high standards of service and behaviour but blames others if things go wrong

Will discuss in private any perceived deterioration before forming views or taking action and does not apportion blame on others when things go wrong

Loses temper, regularly degrades people in front of others, threatens official warnings without listening to any explanation

Asks for peoples views, listens and assimilates feedback

Tells people what is happening, does not listen


First, everyone who supervises or manages staff must be familiar with the Trusts Bullying and Harassment, grievance and discipline policies.

Second, role model clear and consistent standards of behaviour, managers and leaders must set a good example. The behaviour of employers and senior managers is as important as any formal policy. Strong management can unfortunately sometimes tip over into bullying behaviour. A culture where employees are consulted and problems discussed is less likely to encourage bullying and harassment than one where there is an authoritarian management style. Portsmouth Hospitals Board of Directors have made it clear that bullying and harassment are unacceptable.

Third, maintain fair procedures and ensure swift and effective interventions to deal with behaviour and performance inconsistent with our Values.  Complaints of bullying and harassment can usually be dealt with using our grievance and disciplinary procedures.  These procedures have provision for confidentiality, and for both the person making the complaint and the subject of the complaint to be accompanied by a fellow employee or trade union representative of their choice.

Fourth, create a positive environment through being supportive, fair and compassionate.

Fifth, let your employees know that complaints of bullying and/or harassment, or information from staff relating to such complaints, will be dealt with fairly and confidentially and sensitively. Employees will be reluctant to come forward if they feel they may be treated unsympathetically or are likely to be confronted aggressively by the person whose behaviour they are complaining about.

Guidance and support for managers is available from respect.me@porthosp.nhs.uk or steve.thomas@porthosp.nhs.uk

In an emergency where patient or staff welfare is at risk, it may sometimes be necessary to shout instructions, though language used should be respectful.


Responding to a complaint

Investigate the complaint promptly and objectively. Take the complaint seriously. Employees do not normally make serious accusations unless they feel seriously aggrieved. The investigation must be seen to be objective and independent. Decisions can then be made as to what action needs to be taken. Consider all the circumstances before reaching a conclusion, and particularly the perception of the complainant as harassment is often felt differently by different people. Having gathered all the evidence employers should ask themselves “could what has taken place be reasonably considered to have caused offence?”

Be sensitive, objective, and seek information

Encourage your member of staff to describe examples of the alleged bullying and what outcome they would like to see. To be fair to both parties, you need to decide whether the behaviour is bullying or harassment. The alleged 'bully' may have no idea about the effect their behaviour is causing. Malicious allegations can also happen.  Refer to the Trusts bullying and harassment policy or email the respect.me@porthosp.nhs.uk support line.   You also need to let the member of staff know what their options are in terms of support, progressing the complaint, and relevant policies.

Identify a way forward

Many cases of bullying can be resolved informally – you may wish to approach the people concerned confidentially to explore and discuss the allegations and work out a way forward. For more serious matters, you will need to seek the support of human resources team or steve.thomas@porthosp.nhs.uk.  In serious cases, your staff member may wish to make an informal or formal complaint, or even take legal action.

Case Study

Mike is surprised to be told by his boss that Richard, a new member of the team, has complained to him about the fact that Mike always calls him Grandad instead of his name. Mike says it is only meant as a joke, and that Richard is taking the whole thing too seriously. Mike’s boss responds by telling Mike that, if Richard finds Mike’s use of a nickname offensive, then Mike is harassing Richard.

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Last updated - 30 August 2016
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