Bullying and harassment: NHSScotland PIN policy

This Partnership Information Network (PIN) policy is not in use after 1 March 2020. Policies in force after 1 March 2020 are on https://workforce.nhs.scot/policies

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4 Interventions

4.1 Early action and informal interventions

As outlined earlier, dealing with bullying and harassment is NHSScotland's agenda to create a 'dignified workplace'. A dignified workplace reflects an organisation where dignified workers (employees who are respected and valued) conduct dignified work (work that makes a difference to society). To read Sharon Bolton's paper on Dignified Work, Dignified Workers and Dignified Workplaces, click here31.

Organisations striving to create such a workplace may have a range of culture change interventions in place to try and pre-empt bullying and harassment situations. These may include a coaching philosophy that encourages an ongoing feedback loop, for example. However where this is not the case, or the pre-emptive measures have been unsuccessful, early action and informal intervention should be the next step.

There is a positive duty upon ALL parties to try to resolve a dispute or disagreement whenever it is reasonable to do so.

Therefore, wherever possible, interventions to informally resolve a bullying/harassment issue will be offered and encouraged as a way forward.

All parties involved should remember that the alleged bully/harasser also has rights and that premature conclusions should not be made until the due process has been completed. Timely action is essential to ensure the impact for both alleged victim and alleged perpetrator is minimised.

4.1.1 Early action by management

Employers have a duty of care to all their employees. Managers have a duty to act promptly and to intervene early when behaviours that could indicate bullying/harassment are spotted or suspected. In many cases, the need to take appropriate action will be clear.

However, managers should also take time to reflect on the behaviours identified and question whether the behaviour is indeed bullying/harassment, or rather a personality clash, performance management or an inappropriate management style. An employee may perceive any of these situations as bullying/harassment.

Managers should therefore reflect upon what situation caused the allegation. If the allegation came about as a result of a performance discussion, why was that the case?

Managers should ensure that feedback follows the BOOST model (Balanced, Observed, Owned, Structured and Timely). Was the feedback balanced and observed? Was it delivered in a timely fashion ( i.e. not six months after the behaviour was observed)? Did the feedback come as a complete surprise to the employee?

If it is possible to identify why the allegation has been made, it may make resolution before formal process much easier.

4.1.2 Appropriate challenges from employees

As a first step, employees should reflect on the behaviour and try to establish whether or not it was indeed bullying, performance management, or a clash of personalities etc. (see Appendix 1).

If, having done so, an employee still perceives that the behaviour used towards them was inappropriate, they may choose to try appropriately challenging that behaviour themselves, either by speaking or writing to the person(s) concerned.

It may be that the other person is not fully aware of their own behaviour and its impact. By appropriately challenging the behaviour, the employee can create the possibility of mutual understanding and change. The employee also shows that they are acting with dignity and that they are respecting the dignity of the other person.

Appropriate challenging is an option available to individuals as a form of personal action. However, it may not be possible to use it in all situations e.g. if there are safety issues/other risks).

When appropriately challenging behaviour, it is important for the employee to remain calm and:

  • Describe the behaviour in neutral terms ( e.g. "There have been occasions like the one this afternoon and last Tuesday when your voice was raised/very loud when you spoke to me in front of the others");
  • Describe the effect on their performance( e.g. "This makes it difficult to concentrate on what's being said/difficult to take part in things/difficult to do my job"); and
  • Describe how they would like the behaviour to be different ( e.g. "I would like/prefer to hear about feedback/have problems highlighted in a less public setting/in a less forceful way/in a quieter tone").

They should again ensure feedback follows the BOOST model (Balanced, Observed, Owned, Structured and Timely).

In the above examples, the employee is acting respectfully and looking for the other person to listen respectfully and consider what they are saying. The desired outcome is that both individuals agree how things will be different in the future and put this into practice. If an employee feels they are unable to deal with the behaviour directly or where a personal intervention has been unsuccessful, further options may be required.

4.1.3 Early action - seeking support

An employee who believes that they are the victim of inappropriate behaviour can seek support from a Confidential Contact. The Contact will listen to their concerns and describe the options available to them without making any judgements about the issues. In some organisations, this may be down to designated Confidential Contacts, whilst in other organisations, senior line managers may be the first contact for informal support.

4.2 Structured informal approaches

Where early action has been unsuccessful, employees and other stakeholders may feel the need to pursue a more structured informal process. There are a number of options for such structured informal approaches:

4.2.1 Mediation

Mediation can be used early in a dispute or later on ( i.e. before or after, but not during, a formal process).

Mediation is a confidential, off-the-record method in which the parties are brought together in a neutral setting for up to a day, to try to achieve a mutually acceptable outcome, with the help of trained mediators, who are independent and have no involvement in a case, either before or after the mediation.

Mediation is helpful where conflict involves relationship issues and/or misunderstandings between people. Mediation follows a set of practices and values that include impartiality, independence, neutrality, equality, collaboration and respect for the ability of the parties to make decisions. It is always a voluntary process. What is said in mediation is privileged and cannot be disclosed or used in any subsequent procedure.

Mediation is not arbitration or conciliation and mediators do not make any judgments about the issues ( i.e. a facilitative model is used). Fully trained mediators may be either internal or external but should always be completely impartial. The purpose of the mediation process should be to reach a mutual agreement that resolves each stakeholder's issues.

4.2.2 Meetings facilitated by Human Resources ( HR) personnel

If stakeholders agree that a resolution can be reached through a structured informal discussion rather than through mediation, they may decide to conduct a facilitated meeting.

Facilitated meetings can be offered by Human Resources personnel, to provide an opportunity to explore options and develop a way forward towards resolving an issue.

The purpose of a particular facilitated meeting, as well as ground rules for the meeting, will be stated at the outset, but within these parameters a facilitated meeting can involve a broad range of issues and methods. For example, negotiation and/or compromise can be used and representatives can participate ( i.e. a trade union/professional organisation representative or work colleague). Each NHSScotland organisation will have their own procedures regarding appropriate representatives.

Special attention should be paid to communications with employees who have limited experience of working life, those with learning difficulties, with physical disabilities, or mental health issues (which may impact on their ability to understand or express themselves) as well as employees whose first language is not English. Where required, a translator will be provided when requested.

It is important to note that a meeting facilitated by HR is not a form of arbitration and should not be confused with conciliation, although the outcome of a facilitated meeting might be binding ( e.g. if it has to do with fulfilling an employment contract or complying with the law).

Facilitated meetings are also different from mediation. The parties or their representatives can request a facilitated meeting. Alternatively, management or HR can recommend it. For a meeting to occur, the participants must be willing to take part.

In some circumstances, the HR professional who is facilitating the meeting will not be directly involved in the issue but will report back to whoever is engaged on the case in the HR team. In other situations, the HR professional who is dealing with the matter as part of their own caseload will facilitate such meetings.

Notes will normally be taken to aid recall of what was discussed and a record will be produced of any decisions reached and actions agreed. This is shared with the participants and, if agreed as part of the outcome, may be shared with persons not actually present at the meeting ( e.g. service manager, HRetc.). It may also be referred to in the future by anyone involved. If required, there can be a review meeting after a period of time to monitor progress and follow-up on any issues.

Facilitated meetings can last for several hours. If they form part of a series of meetings spread across a number of days, it is important to establish a timescale for concluding the process promptly.

4.2.3 Meetings facilitated by other third parties

Sometimes a manager or other third party may be called in to facilitate an informal discussion between two or more individuals. It is essential that this is conducted in a fair and consistent manner to facilitate equal participation by the parties making decisions.

The third party invited to facilitate must not have any stake in the issue or have any relationship to the situation that could cause any of the parties to feel disadvantaged.

They must outline their role and agree ground rules for the discussion and establish that the parties are both willing to continue before proceeding. They must use good listening and conflict management skills, and refrain from taking sides or bringing their own opinions, issues and concerns into the discussion.

Please note that there is no need to have a facilitated meeting before mediation and that a case may need both interventions.

4.3 Sources of support

4.3.1 Confidential Contacts

In some organisations Confidential Contacts provide an initial point of contact for a private discussion. Confidential Contacts may be internal or external and will primarily act as a signposting service for employees. Other organisations may have individuals conducting a similar role but may not be described as Confidential Contacts.

Confidential Contacts ( CCs) provide independent, confidential support to employees who may be affected by or accused of bullying, mobbing and/or harassment. They will meet to listen to an employee's concerns and help them explore the options available.

4.3.2 Human Resources ( HR)

HRpersonnel can provide advice and support, helping to clarify employee expectations and discuss possible options. Depending on how each incident develops, HR personnel will also take up other roles ( e.g. facilitating meetings, taking part in hearings etc.).

4.3.3 Occupational Health Service ( OHS)

OHScan provide confidential advice on health issues that may cause difficulties within the workplace either following management referral or self-referral. Additional support services such as counselling are available.

4.3.4 Trade union/professional organisation representatives

Trade union/professional organisation representatives will discuss the situation to help identify the problem and look at options for resolution. Depending on how things develop, they may take up roles such as accompanying and representing parties at meetings, presenting cases at hearings etc.

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