The difference between bullying and assertive management

Bullying is described by Acas as “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient”. The key point is that one person’s bullying may not be another’s. Subjectivity comes into play in this area of the law, which makes it a difficult area.

Bullying is most often used in the employment law context as the foundation for a constructive dismissal claim where employees can argue that the term of mutual trust and confidence implied into every employment relationship has been breached. This could entitle the employee to resign with or without notice and bring a constructive dismissal claim. Also, bullying can lead to personal injury claims.

Here are some tips for achieving assertive management that does not constitute bullying:

• Set clear objectives that are regularly reviewed. Addressing performance is part of any manager’s job and it can be made easier if employees are aware of what is expected of them.
• Do not get personal. Do not target an individual’s personal characteristics as this could lead employers into discrimination territory. Keep it neutral.
• Communication is everything. Two people can communicate the same message and it can sound entirely different. Managers needs to be trained to understand how to communicate effectively.
• Understand workloads and listen to the employee. An employee may have a perfectly acceptable reason for falling beneath required standards temporarily. Listen to the justifications and take them on board.
• Keep it private. The employee will be able to satisfy the Acas definition of bullying in feeling humiliated by any sort of public dressing down.
• Praise. Praise is a motivator much overlooked. Introduce positivity where possible.

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