Culture | Workplace abuse in the new world of working

Workplace abuse in the new world of working

By Tracey Ward, Head of Business development and Marketing at Generali UK Employee Benefits

Abuse, either domestic, in a workplace setting, or virtual working, is a major problem that makes lives intolerable. It can lead to mental and physical ill-health and can be seen in a lack of morale, performance and engagement.

A zero-tolerance approach to abuse in the workplace is taken as read, but with the blurring of lines between work and home, how can organisations strive to support employees more effectively in the hybrid working framework? And where can their provider partners help?

This is undoubtedly an incredibly complex problem that requires a multi-faceted response. But it’s a question that we have noticed is increasingly being asked by the organisations we work with, in terms of: “what can our provider partners offer in the way of support?”. In this article, we endeavour to answer that question. But first, some context.

The cost of workplace conflict

Workplace conflict – a catch-all term used by the CIPD to encompass bullying, harassment or personality clashes1 – costs UK employers around £28.5bn a year, according to a study by Acas, with experts warning that an increase in remote working could make disputes between staff harder to manage.2

Acas says the majority of the costs to organisations following workplace conflict come from resignations, absences and presenteeism. Added to this is the cost to business of formal procedure, including grievances, disciplinary cases and disciplinary dismissals.2

Looking at data provided by the wellbeing experts that Generali UK partners with as part of its Group Income Protection programme, ‘work relationships / conflict’ represents the third most common reason - on both a UK and global basis - for managers calling on the expertise of LifeWorks’ Manager Consultation Service for support with employee-related issues.

This follows ‘fitness for duty’ and ‘workplace stress’ in the UK. And, globally, ‘work performance’ followed by ‘workplace stress’.

Meanwhile – and on top of this – reports of domestic abuse in the UK increased dramatically during the various Covid-19 related lockdowns. Although not a workplace issue as such, with the ongoing blurring of work life boundaries, recognising when employees are suffering from any kind of abuse arguably seems a fundamental duty of care.

Most recent figures from charity Refuge reveal that calls and contacts4 logged on its National Domestic Abuse Helpline (NDAH) went up by an average of 61% between April 2020 and February 2021. During the reporting period, 72% of people supported by NDAH were women experiencing abuse, with the most common age-bracket between 30 – 39.4.

Refuge explains that domestic abuse is not just about physical violence, it can be economic, sexual or emotional abuse, coercive control or abuse perpetrated through the misuse of technology.

What does workplace conflict look like?

Back to workplace conflict and the sources are almost too numerous to mention. But the obvious ones include:1

  • Rude verbal and non-verbal behaviours

  • Any form of bullying behaviour or harassment (i.e. undermining or humiliating people, persistent criticism, unreasonable pressure, public humiliation, isolation or exclusion from social activities)

  • Any form of discriminatory behaviour

  • Poor attendance and time keeping

Other, less obvious sources include:1

  • Differences in personality style or working

  • Taking credit for other people’s work or ideas

  • Not valuing other people’s views, backgrounds or experiences

  • Talking over people in meetings

What’s the legal position?

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, all employers must provide a safe and healthy working environment, including protection from bullying and harassment at work.3

This necessitates employers assessing the nature and scale of workplace risks to health and safety (including mental health), ensuring there are proper control measures in place to avoid these risks wherever possible and reduce them so far as is reasonably practicable where not.3

Conflict resolution in the workplace

Acas says that employers should invest in early resolution of conflicts, and put an emphasis on repairing employment relationships and creating multiple channels where employees can access support.2

The CIPD provides some really useful guides for HR and Line Managers to help managers be at the forefront when workplace conflict occurs and tackle it head on, as well as helping them create the conditions for a positive workplace culture.1

The CIPD’s report Managing conflict in the workplace, also reveals that managers themselves can often be the cause of conflict. It helps them reflect on their own management style and the impact their behaviour has on others.5

Assess insurer partner support

In addition, it’s worth taking a look at what your existing health and wellbeing suppliers can offer in the way of support for both managers and their teams. In the case of Generali’s group income protection, for example, this includes:

  • Support to carry out stress risk assessments, either using the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) Management Standards or the new ISO45003 global psychological safety guidelines.

  • Access for all people managers to the LifeWorks Manager Consultation Service, as part of its Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). This is designed to support managers – Line Managers, HR, OH or mental health first aiders - to have difficult and sensitive conversations with employees, as a representative of the business, ensuring HR policy and practice is adhered to, but at the same time doing it with empathy and compassion. This includes signposting to appropriate professional support, where required, via services offered by the organisation or via community or charitable organisations.

  • 24/7 access to LifeWorks’ EAP for all employees – whether insured under the group income protection programme or not – and their immediate families.

  • Personalised mental health care pathway support, where an employee is off sick or struggling subject to clinical need

  • Conflict resolution service or mediation for example when absence, the working environment or a situation and clinical need are heavily intertwined

Find out more about Generali


1 CIPD, A guide to dealing with bullying and workplace conflict, March 2022

2 Acas, Estimating the costs of workplace conflict, May 2021

3 Unison, Tackling bullying at work: A Unison guide for safety reps,

4 Calls and contacts logged does not equal demand. One person may access Refuge’s services multiple times. Source: Refuge, 23 March 2021

5 CIPD, Managing conflict in the modern workplace, Jan 2020

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Generali UK Employee Benefits

Generali UK provides Group Life Assurance, Group Income Protection - plus added-value wellbeing services - to the UK employees of multinational clients. Generali UK is also pioneering Wellbeing Investment Matching, helping clients fund discrete, tailored wellbeing initiatives where a need has been identified.

Access to a range of multinational pooling and captive solutions is available via: Generali Employee Benefits Network (GEB), and a range of non-life coverages is available via Generali Global Corporate & Commercial.