Government, union and blue-chip firms join to address bullying in the workplace

IT user groups and unions have welcomed a government-backed campaign to tackle bullying in the workplace. However, the industry...

IT user groups and unions have welcomed a government-backed campaign to tackle bullying in the workplace. However, the industry is divided about the extent bullying exists in the IT profession.

Last month the government, IT union Amicus and several large employers launched a £2m campaign to tackle bullying. The campaign has the support of blue-chip companies including British Telecom, Royal Mail, British Aerospace and Legal & General.

Companies signing up to the campaign will train employees as counsellors who can investigate allegations of bullying and devise a voluntary charter to maintain "dignity at work".

But how bad a problem is bullying in the IT industry? The main union specialising in the representation of IT workers, Amicus, has claimed that workplace bullying is a serious problem in IT.

The last published survey into the problem in October 2002, by Mercer Human Resource Consulting, provided evidence to support Amicus's claim.

It found that more than 20% of IT workers had been bullied once or more in the 12 months that preceded the survey. Almost 10% of IT staff said they had suffered "chronic" bullying.

According to the survey, bullying - ranging from rude treatment to threats and physical abuse - is also not confined to employees at the bottom of the organisational hierarchy. Some 25% of middle managers and 15% of senior managers said they had been bullied at least once in the previous year.

Peter Skyte, national secretary of the IT Professionals' Association, part of Amicus, said the report showed that IT workers are susceptible to bullying because of the long hours and tight deadlines. "People do not go out to be bullies, the pressure of the working environment often makes them bully," he said.

"Bullying can stem from IT being often project-based and companies bidding for every job. They try and bid at the lowest price without ensuring they have the right people resources, leading to problems such as bullying when the pressure is on. From the top down, everybody kicks everyone else down the line."

A new form of bullying is e-mail-based harassment, added Skyte, who said it was common for managers to send demanding requests - often with impossible deadlines - to staff that have already gone home, are ill or who are on holiday.

John Handby, chief executive of chief information officers' organisation CIO Connect, welcomed the campaign to combat bullying but questioned whether the problem was any worse in IT than other industries.

"There are pressures in delivering IT projects and so forth, but whether that leads to bullying I do not know. But there is no real evidence that bullying in IT is a greater or lesser problem compared to other areas."

The Corporate IT Forum, Tif, said bullying was not a concern for its members. A Tif spokesman said, "We have had numerous workshops [on employment issues] and bullying has never come up, so it is not an issue."

Tackling bullying

Train employees as counsellors and investigators of bullying and harassment in the workplace. Employers will be expected to encourage all staff to support colleagues who have been bullied

Devise and promote a voluntary charter on "dignity at work" 

Promote examples of "excellent" employers in the UK and lessons to be learned

Enable organisations to measure their success in tackling bullying

Develop a benchmarking process to enable organisations to measure their success in "achieving dignity" and produce a "ban bullying" pack.

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