Emotional abuse is, sadly, rife in the workplace – and the tech sector is no exemption. However, as individuals, we can all make a difference – whether it’s to prevent ourselves from being treated badly or taking a conscious effort over our own actions.

Events like “It Was Just Banter”, run by Manchester society Techs and the City, are essential in the fight against bullying. At ON:iT, we believe that no-one should ever experience workplace bullying, which is one reason that we were delighted to sponsor the latest event. We also felt that it was important for our team to attend to learn more about the ways in which this type of behaviour can be combated.

In her opening speech, event organiser, Amy Newton, explained that bullying is present in many forms in the tech sector – from excluding colleagues from social events to disrespecting others in the office environment.

While it’s difficult for people to talk about, Amy stressed that creating dialogue around these issues is the only way in which they can be resolved.

In a poignant talk, Digital Services Practice Manager of BPDTS, Melanie Carver, took to the stage to reflect on her experience of emotional abuse – to which she was a victim for seven years. She went on to explain that these problems are far more prevalent and subtle in the workplace than people think – and are often devious in nature.

Workplace bullies often work slowly, she explained, drip-feeding sly gibes to the point where the victim begins to feel inadequate. It’s not just “banter”, as the perpetrator might insinuate, nor is it you being too sensitive. If it feels wrong – it probably is, so you should never be afraid to say you’re not ok.

The effect continues long-after work

Communication can also be a crutch in the workplace – a topic Yong Yuen (Venjin) He from bookinggo explored in greater detail. During her talk, the Software Test Engineer expressed how comments made in passing can play on people’s minds long after work is over. Clarification is crucial. Speakers deserve to be understood, whilst listeners, equally, deserve an explanation.   

Often, we have a very limited understanding of the people we deal with at work. We see a professional person before us – and don’t necessarily know how they feel on the inside. We need to be mindful and try our best to understand.

How ‘casual’ comments can chip away

“Raise your hand if you’ve ever been bullied”. This is how Jonathan Jones, HR Business Partner at Fanatics directed the audience and made them reflect on the subject. He went on to explain that often what may appear as office ‘banter’ can actually represent bullying – hence the event name. Casual comments and seemingly tongue-in-cheek remarks like “Alright, shorty”, “another blonde moment”, or “why don’t you have a girlfriend/boyfriend?” can actually chip away at a person’s self-esteem.

He also stated that while it’s important to be aware of our feelings in such situations, it’s also crucial to observe colleagues. Jonathan asked the question of what we should do if someone we know is being bullied? Would you intervene?

The final speaker of the evening, Gemma McCall – Co-Founder and Managing Director at Culture Shift Communications Ltd – offered a technological solution to some of the problems pondered throughout the event. Along with a team of developers, Gemma has built a support platform for students to log anonymous reports when they are suffering any sort of abuse – and she is now looking for ways to roll this programme out into the workplace.

One thing that was apparent from all speakers was that communication is key. If you are suffering from workplace bullying or know of someone that is, try and talk about the situation, approach the bully and be brave.

There’s nothing more important than confronting bullying, harassment and abuse – and everyone deserves to feel comfortable, safe and happy whilst at work. We’d like to extend our thanks towards Techs and the City for hosting such an important, eye-opening event – and ON:iT will continue to support these ventures moving forwards in any way we can.