Bullying taking place “in plain sight” within charity sector

Stressed employee

A report has revealed the severe impacts bullying can have on charity sector workers

11th June 2019 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

The impact of bullying within the workplace has been described as “severe” by charity workers.

In Plain Sight, released today (Tuesday 11 June) by the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO) and Centre for Mental Health reveals the emotional harm caused to people who have experienced bullying in the charity workplace and makes a series of recommendations to create safer systems, processes and cultures.

A total of 524 self-selected people who experienced bullying participated in an online survey and researchers also conducted 20 in-depth interviews. All examples of bullying took place in registered charities in England and Wales within the last five years.

No similar work has been carried out in the Scottish charity sector.

The research focused on the impact of the bullying, who was responsible for it and the responses by organisations and regulators to reports of bullying. It is not possible from the research to draw conclusions about the prevalence of bullying or how rates of bullying compare to other sectors.

Respondents rated the impact of bullying as severe, with an average score of 4.5 out of 5. Many described the serious and long-lasting effects of the bullying they had experienced.

While bullying in the charity workplace is rarely publicly discussed, the report states that it is been taking place in plain sight. More than half (58%) of respondents formally reported the bullying but only 3% said that their complaint was dealt with satisfactorily. Over 80% of respondents to the survey said they witnessed other people being bullied in the same organisations.

The report concludes that bullying is linked to gaps or shortcomings in governance and management and it therefore needs an organisation-wide response.

It identifies key areas in which improvements need to be made: including governance and senior leadership, policies, procedures and practice within organisations, the regulatory framework, and joint action across the charity sector.

For example, it says all charity boards should nominate a trustee and senior leader responsible for leading on staff wellbeing and it calls for charities to have clearer guidance on how to respond to concerns when they are raised.

The report also stresses the importance of adopting both robust policies and procedures to address identified instances of bullying and a preventative approach that centres on workplace wellbeing and the creation of healthier, happier (and therefore more productive) workforces.

Vicky Browning, chief executive of ACEVO, said: “Bullying affects workplaces in every part of our society and the voluntary sector is no different. We believe that as charities we should be taking a lead on how we tackle bullying in order to create inclusive and supportive workplace cultures.

“I want to thank the people that took part in this research and trusted us with their experiences. It has enabled us to begin the process of tackling an issue that is rarely talked about publicly in the charity sector. This research is an important first step and I am committed to making the recommendations in the report a reality so that the risk of bullying occurring in charities is reduced and to ensure that when it does take place it is effectively dealt with.”

Sarah Hughes, chief executive of Centre for Mental Health, said: “Being bullied can have a devastating effect on our mental health. We undertook this research to give a voice to people whose experiences have not before been heard, and to understand the causes and consequences of bullying at work.

“It is now time for all of us who lead charities to take action to make sure we are providing a safe, healthy place for people to work in, and taking effective action when we need to deal with problems. Supporting mental health and wellbeing at work is an essential aspect of managing and leading any organisation. I hope that we can all learn from the experiences that have been shared with us.”