Ten Symptoms of Bullying at Work

Bullying at work is commonplace. The facts are stark. Surveys show that at some time during their working lives, half of UK workers have endured bullying. Experts who have studied bullying in the workplace make a further important point: business people and politicians have little interest in the prevention of bullying. This is despite the number of anti-bullying policies many organisations have adopted. Instead, line managers still bully staff with few repercussions.

A responsibility exists for everyone to combat this unpleasant aspect of working life. And one way to start is to identify the symptoms that show someone may be suffering from the attentions of a workplace bully.

1. Indecision

Some people are naturally indecisive. But when a person who is normally comfortable making decisions becomes irresolute, there may be an underlying problem. Bullying may cause this. Bullied workers lose confidence in their ability to be decisive when a bully criticises and harasses them.

2. Unable to Cope

Bullying may cause people to become unable to cope. Workers who usually manage to accomplish tasks with ease may suddenly appear bewildered by the simplest things. Bullies can shatter workers’ feelings of self-esteem. This results in the victims wishing they were anywhere other than the workplace.

3. Reduced Alertness

Many people may suffer from reduced alertness because of occasional tiredness. But a consistent fall in alertness suggests a more worrying cause. Bullying is distracting. It can interrupt a worker’s normal thought patterns. Bullied people may fail to pay attention to what’s happening around them. To their colleagues, they seem far less alert.

4. Reduced Efficiency

Reduced alertness because of bullying can lead to inefficiency. Previously efficient workers may begin to neglect duties. Or they may perform duties but seem unconcerned about getting them right. Poor efficiency, like many of the other symptoms listed here, can also lead to problems for colleagues. They have to resolve problems because of a worker’s failure to do his or her job properly.

5. Poor Concentration

Some people who suffer bullying try to put the matter to the backs of their minds. But worries about bullying have a way of coming to the fore. Poor concentration is a symptom of this. Supervisors in particular may notice the effects of this on workers. And for the bullied worker, poor concentration can be frustrating.

6. Anxiety

This frustration may lead to anxiety. Alternatively, someone may exhibit anxiety as a direct result of bullying. Bullied people may become anxious about the security of their jobs. They may worry about their next meeting with the bully. Or they may be concerned about their reaction to bullying and their failure to stand up for themselves.

7. Irritability

Irritability is easy to spot. A colleague may have a short temper or make uncharacteristically nasty remarks. Irritability could be the result of a bad night’s sleep or a troublesome journey to work. But it can also be a sign of someone who is emotionally fragile after bullying.

8. Tiredness

When bullied, some people withdraw into themselves and show outward signs of tiredness. They may, when asked, be unable to explain just why they are so weary. Such tiredness can also have a link to depression. This is one of the most alarming psychological effects of bullying.

9. Confusion

Confusion is different to reduced alertness and poor concentration. It’s a mental state that’s distressing for both the sufferers and their colleagues. Once again, confusion is fairly easy to spot. But a bullied person may not just be confused about work. He or she may also become confused about personal matters unrelated to the workplace.

10. Burn Out

The ultimate symptom of bullying is burn out. At this point, the sufferer is physically and mentally exhausted. What an employer should find out is why the burn out occurred, and what to do to prevent this happening again.


The above symptoms are not exclusive. Nor do they automatically indicate bullying. But proven links exist between these symptoms and bullying behaviour. Such behaviour can affect workers badly. The overriding concerns of experts in this field are physical and mental health problems.

Bullied people can develop a long list of health difficulties. These include depression, colitis, migraines and high blood pressure. Victims of bullies may also have dry skin and rashes, coughs, frequent indigestion and a need to urinate often. These health issues are for a doctor to check and rectify. But the long-term solution is to stop bullying. As such, all workers should be on the alert for symptoms of bullying. It’s better to address these than allow accumulated stress to damage a worker’s health.

Last Updated on 25 May 2021

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