Following the much-publicized troubles at taxi app Uber, workplace bullying is again in the spotlight. At Uber, 20 staff were dismissed with dozens more disciplined and other complaints are still under investigation following accusations of harassment, discrimination and bullying. The on-going reputational damage eventually led the resignation of its CEO, Travis Kalanick.

The Financial services sector has not by any means been immune to accusations of bullying. Philip Augar, the former banker and author of the Death of Gentlemanly Capitalism, quoted in the Telegraph: “There always have been, and evidently still are, some dark corners of the City where tribal behavior still carries on. I don’t think it’s universal, but laddish behavior does still exist in some sub-sects.”

Bullying at work can be a difficult issue to manage. Each case will be different, the problem may resolve itself if one individual leaves and in some cases, victims may choose not to talk about it, meaning a toxic situation can continue unabated.

But not getting involved could have dangerous consequences. Bullying will impact on performance and potentially as a result, profitability. It may lead to industrial tribunals and firms found guilty will suffer reputational damage which, in the case of Uber, claimed the scalp of their CEO.

For risk managers, the behaviors involved can become cultural – this is not something that can be batted into the HR court, it is an area that boards should be both aware of and prepared to have a clear strategy to deal with.

If problems are suspected, then it may make sense to take a more systematic approach with incidences being properly recorded and monitored, along with providing an environment where those affected can provide their stories without fear of recrimination.

What constitutes workplace bullying?

There are many forms of bullying and according to HSE, these are just some of the areas to watch out for:

  • Ignoring or excluding employees
  • Managers giving tasks that set someone up to fail
  • Malicious rumors or gossip
  • Humiliation/belittling
  • Giving out repeated unpleasant tasks to someone
  • Not giving credit where it is due

“It’s just friendly banter?”…

There are times when managers may say it is almost impossible to eliminate banter and that often it is not malign. But, they should be mindful that the FCA is focused on company culture and behaviors outside the workplace. People will have different views as to what is socially acceptable, but broadly, any individual who is singled out on the basis of their gender, sexuality, religion, race or disability may have justifiable reasons to complain. Employees need to be aware they cannot make offensive remarks and expect to get away with it. Those who are victims should not be expected to develop a thick skin and ignore what is going on.

If CEOs are to escape the same fate as Travis Kalanick, they need to grasp the nettle and gain the support of their risk managers. The risk team can ensure that there are clear policies in place and have easy to use systems that enable the easy reporting of incidents.