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Workplace bullying? A complete guide of what to do…

Working with workplace stress and trauma, I have been surprised to find how common bullying in the workplace is. I guess most adults would assume that bullying in most likely to occur in school but sadly the statistics paint a different picture. A poll carried out by YouGov for the TUC, reveals that:

  • Nearly a third of people (29%) have been bullied at work, women (34%) are more likely to be victims of bullying than men (23%)
  • The highest prevalence of workplace bullying is among 40 to 59-year-olds, where 34% of people are affected
  • In nearly three-quarters (72%) of cases the bullying is carried out by a manager
  • More than one in three (36%) people who report being bullied at work leave their job because of it

So what constitutes workplace bullying? The Gov.UK website defines workplace bullying as, “Behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended.” Behaviour defined as bullying may include:

  • Shouting or swearing at an employee or verbally abusing him or her
  • One employee being singled out for unjustified criticism or blame
  • An employee being excluded from company activities or having his or her work or contributions purposefully ignored
  • Workplace bullies use language or actions that embarrass or humiliate an employee
  • Practical jokes, especially if they occur repeatedly to the same person

Although bullying is not against the law, harassment is under the Equality Act 2010. About 20% of workplace bullying crosses the line into harassment. This is when the unwanted behaviour is related to one of the following:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Disability
  • Gender (including gender reassignment)
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sexual orientation

So what should employees do if they’re bullied or harassed? Well first they should see if they can sort the problem out informally first. Bullies are often quite vulnerable themselves and maybe lacking in control and feel inadequate. Is it possible to stand up to the bully in a calm and confident way? Is it possible to ask the bully if they are ok? Perhaps their own stress levels are overflowing and their behaviour is a signature of their stress. But saying that, their behaviour is their problem, so it might helpful to imagine an invisible barrier between you and the bully, or imagining going to work wearing a suit of armour, or visualising light all around you before stepping through the door. These can all help to protect you from the impact of the bully’s behaviour. If you are being shouted at by the bully, let them know that you will only speak to them when they’re in a calm state. It is ok to walk away from the situation. If you need an excuse, say you are going to the bathroom. Keep a diary of individual incidents.

Workplace bullying can have serious negative effects, such as:

  • Stress
  • Absenteeism and low productivity
  • Lowered self-esteem and depression
  • Anxiety
  • Digestive upsets
  • High blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Trouble with relationships due to stress over work
  • Post traumatic stress disorder

If the bullying becomes intolerable and the employee is not able to handle it themselves, then they need to take the issue to a manager, human resources (HR) department or a trade union representative. If this doesn’t work, they can make a formal complaint using their employer’s grievance procedure. If this doesn’t work and they’re still being harassed, they can take legal action at an employment tribunal. They could also call the Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) helpline for advice: Acas helpline – Telephone: 0300 123 1100

Victims of workplace bullying should realize that it is not their fault. If you think that bullying has affected your emotional and/or physical health please consult a counsellor or your GP. Bullying can happen so subtly and small micro-abuses everyday can add up to have a huge impact. So if you suspect a colleague, a friend or a family member is being bullied, talk to them. Sometimes when I use the word bully when seeing clients, a look of relief comes across their faces. Just to hear the word can immediately change the dynamic of the situation, and help employees to gain their power back. If you would like more information on workplace bullying or think that you may need some help with the effects of bullying, please don’t hesitate to contact me on




Photo credit: Alexas_Fotos