Bullying at Work

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.

Last Updated on 25 May 2021

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