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Bullying at Work

By: Ross Wigham - Updated: 29 May 2017 | comments*Discuss
Bully Workplace Bullying Stress

For most people bullying is something that should end when they leave the school playground, but sadly for a growing number of British workers it's something that will come to define their daily lives.

Workplace bullying is becoming such a big problem that the UK government has sponsored a major investigation into the issue, while almost 90% of companies now have a bullying policy in place. A host of research projects have identified bullying as a growing problem that has the potential to ruin workers careers, lives and wellbeing.

A study by the University of Manchester Institution of Science and Technology found that 47% of people had witnessed bullying at work, while one in ten claimed to have been bullied themselves.

In the past the issue may have been simply ignored or dismissed as trivial by employers but the extent of the problem and the seriousness of legal claims against bosses have really made companies take notice. To the victims, workplace bullying can be demoralising, humiliating and a source of daily misery but in the worst cases can even lead to depression and other stress-related illnesses.

What is Bullying?

Workplace bullying can be difficult to define but there are some common behaviours that are widely accepted as unacceptable and distressing to others. Research shows that there is no one type of culprit and that any member of staff including management have the potential to become a bully, however there is a fine line between Bullying and Strong management.

Examples of bullying can include:

  • Shouting or using unsuitable language towards others.
  • Constant unwarranted criticism.
  • Giving staff menial or trivial tasks as a way of humiliating them.
  • Deliberately blocking promotion.
  • Deliberately giving too much work to individuals in the hope they will fail.
  • Regularly excluding individuals.
  • Singling out individuals with constant jokes.
  • Repeated personal insults.
  • Physical or psychological intimidation.
  • Falsely claiming credit for other people's work.
  • Sending intimidating or hurtful emails or messages commonly known as Cyber Bullying.
This type of behaviour will normally be ongoing and persistent and if carried through to the ultimate conclusion victims can be left in constant fear of going to work.

The National Bullying Survey found that problems ran throughout the entire workforce - from company directors to line managers - and that the majority of victims suffered for more than a year.

Unfair criticism and intimidating behaviour are the most common types of bullying although the most serious cases can involve physical violence or the threat of it.

Bullying and the Law

The legal aspect to bullying is becoming increasingly important with regular employment tribunal cases and a host of stories in the media, highlighting the extend of the problem.

Although there is no specific law to deal with bullying all employers have a Duty of Care towards staff and their wellbeing. Bullying is also a central part of harassment and discrimination legislation.

Individuals can be prosecuted under the Public Order Act if there has been significant abuse or the threat of violence.

How to Deal with Bullying

Bullying will affect different people in different ways, but even low level problems have the potential to make the most resilient people unhappy and unproductive.

At the very least bullying can rob workers of their self confidence, lower self esteem, and will undoubtedly have an impact on their working day - perhaps even leading to time off work.

The only thing on a victims mind is getting the bullying to stop and there are several methods that can be used to achieve this:

  • Confront the bully directly. They may not realise their behaviour is having such a negative impact. The important thing is to identify the problems and get them out in the open.
  • Make a formal complaint. The majority of companies now have a process to deal with bullying complaints and there are also statutory grievance procedures that can be used.
  • Speak with a trade union. There maybe a recognized trade union official within the workforce who can help. If not national trade unions can provide advice and guidance on bullying.
  • Never face employers alone and get a union representative, friend or trusted colleague to come to meetings.
  • Keep a record of the bullying and its timeframe. Isolated incidents or arguments taken out of context can appear trivial unless they are part of an overall pattern.

Where to Go for Help

The following organisations have information related to bullying at work.

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[Add a Comment]
I have just been through a grievance procedure at a corporate company, I (only female) work in engineering and my boss did nothing about the bullying and harassment, I was then blamed by him for the problems in the department. I made grievances, a investigation my the facility boss (also a engineer and both in the same Engineering Institute), all the blokes in the department backed him and I'm blamed for everything - HR (fairly young female) did nothing and let them carry on and do nothing. In stinks, the department has a awful reputation for sexist behaviour towards women, management don't want to know. Company documents and code of conduct etc say all the right things, but in practice nothing - I'm not surprised seen it all before.
Horsey - 29-May-17 @ 9:35 PM
Just resigned after having acid poured on my fork truck seat Reported to my line manager and he covered it because it was is son
Mac - 18-Apr-17 @ 12:55 PM
claire - Your Question:
My husband is being bullied at work at the moment and this has been ongoing for the last 2 years. What started off as being blacked and ignored by members of his department soon escalated into name calling, snide comments, even threats of physical violence towards him. The person who is perpetrating this is 33 years old and 3 times the size of my husband, he is younger, physically stronger and faster - so the managers outlook is that my husband deserves what he is getting because he doesn't pull his weight like the other lad! This has now escalated into some pretty harmful situations - such as leaving a rag soaked in paint thinner under my husbands desk that he had been inhaling for a couple of hours, unknowingly, until he felt ill and dizzy. This was found after he turned his desk fan off and could still smell the thinner. We shall see what happens now as continued efforts to make management see what is happening in his department are failing miserably and my husband is getting more and more emotionally distressed!

Our Response:
We hope the tips in the "How to Confront Bullying" section of the above article will help.
SafeWorkers - 2-Mar-17 @ 2:33 PM
My husband is being bullied at work at the moment and this has been ongoing for the last 2 years. What started off as being blacked and ignored by members of his department soon escalated into name calling, snide comments, even threats of physical violence towards him. The person who is perpetrating this is 33 years old and 3 times the size of my husband, he is younger, physically stronger and faster - so the managers outlook is that my husband deserves what he is getting because he doesn't pull his weight like the other lad! This has now escalated into some pretty harmful situations - such as leaving a rag soaked in paint thinner under my husbands desk that he had been inhaling for a couple of hours, unknowingly, until he felt ill and dizzy. This was found after he turned his desk fan off and could still smell the thinner. We shall see what happens now as continued efforts to make management see what is happening in his department are failing miserably and my husband is getting more and more emotionally distressed!
claire - 1-Mar-17 @ 2:30 PM
my line manager bullies and is sarcastic to most staff members. he particularly likes to be rude and sarcastic to female staff members except the ones he goes out drinking with/to the gym with. if anyone ever tries to do something for themselves because it is busy and it needs doing straight away because we have a queue of customers and he is around he will straight away stop you and make you do without. you are not allowed to think for yourself,and the more you try to explain what you are trying to do,the angrier he gets. one girl has scars on her arms and he told her to cover herself up so as not to upset staff or customers. she is has self harm issues,depression and is only about 18. she started to cry and he sarcastically said' oooh are going to go home home and do that to yourself again now are you?. he has also grabbed an employee by his shirt with his fists clenched up to this persons neck when the person was explaining to him why he needed something quickly to avoid a queue. he has poked several other staff members including me. he has also sworn at younger female staff members when they did something they needed to do. i was witness to him telling another manager that he told staff members he would make staff members lives difficult if they didn't do what he asked them to do. he also puts people on jobs they have either never done or haven't had much training on and won't let anyone help them. He talks to staff like they are naughty children,especially the females. There are many complaints about him and nothing is ever done. I'm tired of him and now I am desperatley looking for another job. Many other people have left because of him. He is a nasty narccissist!
jo - 5-Feb-17 @ 9:49 AM
I walked off a job yesterday over bullying. The problem is that when you complain, you just get the whole "John is just being John"/"He's like that" justification,
Kapi - 7-Dec-16 @ 6:12 PM
Ime being bullied by my boss at a charity i work at i. Gt yarmouth called. Since i e returned to work after a major operation my work load is massive ime a chef catering for 30people a day she belittles me talks tome like a child and trys to humiliate me in front of colleagues she even got the manager on side and shes becoming a bully too Ime a 48yr old man and these 2 awful women are making my live hell as they've. Made the lives of others who have left ime single and need this job but ime getti g depressed and sometimes feel. Suicidal o and ive worked in some very busy places but never been bullied but who do you turn too the trustees are weak and no one to turn to if the lottery commision or charity commision new funding wouldd be cut but the woman in charge is just awful
Fluffy - 28-Oct-16 @ 10:30 PM
#1 Fri, 23/09/2016 - 22:04 Some advise please I've had an issue with my boss at work over the past few weeks It started in August just before I went on holiday for 2 weeks we had a major issue with a customer and I wasn't there to help When I returned my boss was very stressed and distant plus quiet with me He also muttered several comments under his breath like "it's one thing after another" "don't know why I'm saying sorry to you" I also tried to help with the issue but he ignored and challenged everything I said even though I was right. My colleagues even said it was obvious he wasn't listening and I was getting nowhere with him. Anyway after my holiday I was in work for 2 weeks and then I'm off for 6 weeks due to having an operation on my shoulder. He seemed to alienate me for this. I've worked for him for over 13 years with an unblemished recorded and great professional and personal relationship but 3 weeks into my sick leave he hasn't text, phoned or emaile to see how I am. Only time he's been in touch is about work. A week after my operation I had to go back to hospital for a morphene injection as the pain was so bad. I missed a text from my boss asking for help with an issue. I replied to the text later explaining I'd been taken back to hospital and he said sorry to hear that can you come onto a conference call etc ( which I didn't) Am I paranoid or is this silent treatment a form of bullying/harassment?
Scoobymax - 27-Sep-16 @ 8:18 PM
I was bullied at work on 2 occasions and on the last occasion last week I ended up walking out half an hour before my shift finished.I work for an agency and they have said that the employer said because I walked out it is gross misconduct and when I told them about the bullying they said that I should have gone and talked with a manager.I have now lost my job but is this gross misconduct and should I have been sacked?
Milnsy - 15-Aug-16 @ 10:30 AM
i work in care while at work one day one of the residents family memeber came up to me and threatened me with my job she accused me of locking her mom in her room and that i left her in a wet bet. i have evidence to show that i didnt. that asside is there any way i can take the threat further as she is making my work life hell
nmddd - 28-Jul-16 @ 3:14 PM
I was bullied out of one place, then bullied at another because my reference depended on the previous workplace. It nearly drove me to suicidal thoughts. I am amazed by how many people don't have a moral conscious. They're really evil inside, why isn't more campaigning being done, it's not like we're short of jobs, it's really unnecessary behaviour. People who bully other people with psychological aggression should feel guilty for the harm they do to people psychologically and we should brand it as evil, we need to socially shame it, call it for what it is, it's evil behaviour!!
Nna - 22-Apr-16 @ 7:12 PM
I worked in a corporate company for a number of years, and considered myself as a confident individual, honest and always did the right thing. Over the years I worked myself up the corporate ladder to a department manager, and took pride in being able to inspire other colleagues to develop and seek promotion. Eventually I became a senior department Manager colleague. I began to notice that a colleague that was also an equal appeared to latching onto the director who was our line manager. Every time I got a bit close, it was the body position of my colleague that would appear to be in guard of the director - as if to say, back off they are mine. I ignored this and continued. to do my best, and generate new incentives. To my horror, I came to know that my colleague was claiming that my ideas was theirs and had gotten very close with the director, their relationship was unprofessional and very uncomfortable to be around. Eventually, the director left, my colleague has also been badmouthing the director to the seniors. This person had lied a lot, and befriended the seniors - therefore it was no surprise when they got a senior post. This person had no real skills, however wouldjust coast and get the staff under them to do the tasks, and passing them of as their own. Their real skill was befriending their line manager to gain promotions. It was impossible to get past this individual - as they had an army of protectors around them. Every time I sought promotions/ alternative roles this person would foil my chances. I could not prove anything, therefore my career was stunted. The sad thing was, everybody under them - knew that this individual was talent less, but not the seniors. I had not realized back then that I had been bullied, there were times I would feel really low - and lose my confidence. Whenever other promotions came along, would only appoint people that was their friend and alot of covering up went on. A situation arose, where I was being used as a scape goat and I was put in a position where the facts identified serious flaws in this persons ability. Eventually, I ended up quitting - that was the best day of my life although this was without a job to go to and yet i was happy. I walked into another and much better job and role almost immediately and all my skills and talents were recognized. I wish I had left earlier, and upon reflection have realized my own strength and all the experiences that I have went through has truly made me a much better & stronger individual. I thank this talent less bully for making me a much stronger and confident person I am. Remember - we all have a choice so go ahead, and take a chance.
Em - 7-Apr-16 @ 11:15 PM
I'm working as a HR manager; the boss that I'm reporting is a gentleman. I'm happy working with him. But, I'm assigned to work with another boss for certain assignment. Initially he is okay; than later he keep asking too many questions which is beyond my ability to answer! He will keep informed me, I'm asking this to ensure all in right order and etc. Added, the reply will be ended 'okay boss'; I had already told him; I'm don't feel comfortable but he says, 'he is respecting me by calling boss' I felt I'm so lousy! Please advice.
Carol - 29-Dec-15 @ 3:47 AM
I have been working in a care home for a decade and been bullied ever since I've started working. Most of the points of bullying in the list above I've recieved from my supervisor only to make her feel superior and to gain attention. I've now been given more work and everytime I think about it I feel emotional even when I talk to my home manager about it. Home managers listen to the supervisors because they are a form of management and mine is under domestic. The other housekeepers look relaxed in there work and I envy their time because their duties have been placed on my daily work schedule. The only way I can sort this is to ask the home manager to find copies of existing evening cleaning rotas from other similar 40 bedded care homes in the Company or ask for an original copy of the rota from the company body.It's gone on too long. I feel like leaving and crying.
Emotional - 20-Nov-15 @ 12:00 PM
I have had to quit a role I enjoyed, take a pay cut, loose progression opportunities so that I could go to work without hassle. The chairman and chief ambulance officer and the head of human resources have in turn accused me of harassment. They seem to have more rights than me
Fitzpat8 - 13-Feb-15 @ 11:10 PM
Wow!I am a United States citizen, and I have been experiencing the exact same things as the others in your country.Apparently, this is not something restricted only to our country but has pretty much become a much more global concern.Virtually everything that has been mentioned in the comments from the others on this post are the same things I have also been experiencing.Unfortunately, we in the U.S. don't have any laws on the books that deal with this type of behavior in the workplace but are hard at work trying to do so...sometimes not soon enough, sad to say, for anyone who has experienced the meltdowns.Any advice any of you can give us would be greatly appreciated.Thank you so much for being so honest, as difficult as I'm sure it must have been.
Bullied Across the P - 13-Jan-15 @ 10:37 PM
continued Most of this was tolerable but recently the director started bullying me and one or two others in public after being passed over for promotion. Also, the director plays favourites and promotes the agenda of one worker who is probably the worst performer in the department. Much to the bemusement of everyone else. I'm not sure how much more I can type in one post so just want to finish this one by asking for advice on how to cope with this? It's happening again and this time I feel the company is even more toxic than the last. I can't go to HR as the HR director in working in tandem to deliver the somewhat tyrannical regime that we all, apart from the clique, have to suffer on a daily basis. Clique, come in late take days off unaccounted, unaccountable for work output, abuse others openly. Do nothing most days. Outside the clique, pulled up by HR for slightest infraction, have to do the work of the clique and their own, take the abuse but cannot give it back. This place is crazy.
Bullied Worker - 20-Dec-14 @ 8:28 PM
Hi, I am looking for some practical advice and also looking to put down in words my experiences over the last few years in the workplace. I have always been quite a quiet and hard working individual who doesn't like to get involved in office politics or games to gain influence and instead have quite a strong sense of equality and believe in hard work should equal results. Up until my current job and my last job I was very well thought of and respected and performed well and was reasonably happy at work. Just the usual gripes and moans or issues occasionally that everyone should have at some stage. No issues. I started a job five years ago in a private firm and unfortunately experienced bullying from a manager. I had never really experienced this strange Jeckyll and Hyde behaviour in my life before and found it hard to deal with. Without going into major details I logged the bullying for over a year then as I was about to go to HR the manager complained about me and I was put into a kangaroo court situation where the directors of the firm had already made their minds up about me and I left before things got too bad. After years of abuse and probably suffering from some sort of PTSD I failed to pick up the signs of a covert bully when being interviewed and starting my new job. I was the only worker that I have spoken to that was interviewed by the director of my department and the director of HR. They probed me again and again for why I wanted to leave. I believe that the first employer had given me a bad reference. Anyway I got the job over three years ago. From day one something did not sit right with the new director of my department and I received one or two comments. There was also comments or actions from one or two others within the department that seemed odd. Despite this I passed the probationary period and in every year since I have received the top mark in the appraisal system and get on well with most employees. This is the only positive side to my experience in the workplace. The atmosphere is incredibly toxic, the company is completely dysfunctional and very political. They preach values constantly to enter into awards and competitions but the workers despite being told they are the best in the UK are intimidated, spied on, bullied and lied to. All of this, in my opinion, is conducted by a covert, narcissistic bully director who has over the years built up a very close knit clique of sycophants, spies and sacred most others into submissive behaviour. Since I started four people have walked out, twenty have changed jobs and the atmosphere is one of fear, boredom, anger and resentment from most people. Other than the select few deemed suitable to be included in the directors clique. Interestingly going back to when I started two of the spies were the ones who commented to me on my first day in a negative manner. Both have since been promoted or received favourable pay increases when compared to others. Most of this I
Bullied Worker - 20-Dec-14 @ 8:18 PM
@Coco73. It may be worth seeing an employment lawyer about this...from your account it does sounds as though your ex employers acted unethically.
SafeWorkers - 19-Dec-14 @ 12:23 PM
I am a female worker and I was physically assaulted at work by a male colleague which was caught on CCTV and conducted in front of a customer. It was dealt with via a final written warning and he was taken off a course but he was allowed to keep his job. No safe guards were put in place in case of any future problems and I was never asked by management if things had settled down. He has since verbally harassed me with sexual comments, intimidated and demoralised me in front of my male colleagues and customers for many months, whilst trying to ignore his unwanted behaviour in the hope he would get bored, he didn't. I finally plucked up the courage to complain to my male manager who was less than helpful and even called me names. I had to submit a grievance and an investigation was conducted. The investigation came back and I was told he had admitted too several of the comments and we were to sit together in mediation. I refused to sit and talk things over with with him as he obviously has a problem with the word No and STOP. Plus had my employers kept an eye on the situation this wouldn't have had the chance to get to this stage. It also states in our work hand book that violence is classed as a gross misconduct punishable by instant dismissal. My employers didn't follow their own written disciplinary guide lines (zero tolerance too bullying, violence and harassment) and failed to reprimand his continued bad behaviour. I went off sick with work related stress and I had to take a course of therapy via my doctor. I have since had my employment terminated because my employers would not accept my reluctance to sit in mediation with the perpetrator (which is voluntary not compulsory). I have never had any previous verbal or written warnings for my conduct and I worked for this well known firm for over five years. I am now a single mother on £72 a week JSA. I have lost a combined income of £965 per month, also my pension and my trustand confidence in my ex employers. I've been refused housing benefit and council tax relief. It is now in the hands of my solicitor. BE STRONG AND LETS STAND UP TO VIOLENCE AND BULLIES IN THE WORK PLACE AND SCHOOLS....!
Coco73 - 18-Dec-14 @ 5:13 PM
I walked out of work due to having a breakdown. My employer a famous racehorse trainer would not let me go back to work , even when he found out. Horse racing has a zero tolerence on bullying but my trainer wouldnt act upon. he said he didnt sack me. but I wasnt allowed back to work for walking out due to a mental health condition due to the bullying. the british horse racing authority are protecting this trainer and wont act for me
unhappy - 20-Jun-14 @ 5:18 PM
Bonzo - I do think bullying is being talked about a lot more openly now and is also addressed/discussed in curriculum topics such as PSHE in UK schools. Hopefully it will all help the next generation going into the workplace.
bess123 - 10-Jun-14 @ 10:29 AM
I have been bullied my times over the years by normal people who are not even aware of their behavior.I have seen bullying take place and talked to the person who was doing it.He was totally unaware of impact he could be having on the other person. If self awareness was taught in schools at an early age, Im sure it would have a positive effect on this concerning situation.
Bonzo - 9-Jun-14 @ 7:59 AM
i get bullied on the bingo bus
fatty - 4-Nov-13 @ 10:13 AM
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