Workplace Bullying

The theme of this year’s Anti-Bullying Week is ‘Choose Respect’. Although the focus on the week is aimed at children and adolescents, the message is equally relevant within today’s workplaces. If more organisations concentrated their efforts on establishing and maintaining supportive and respectful cultures, the risks of bullying going on unchecked, or even happening in the first place, would be significantly reduced.


What is Workplace Bullying?

This is when repeated and unreasonable behaviour is directed towards another work colleague or group of colleagues, creating an intimidating or humiliating work environment for that individual or group. The difference between bullying behaviour and a mistake or a misunderstanding is to do with the intent behind the actions. Bullying is carried out with the intent to harm dignity, safety, health and well-being.

Bullying at work can take many different forms such as: repeated harmful remarks; verbal attacks; intimidation; ganging up; hazing (initiation tasks); exclusion; excessive criticism; physical harassment including pushing, tripping, grabbing or shoving; social exclusion; as well as spreading malicious rumours within the workplace or via social media (cyberbullying).

ACAS also clarifies that bullying can be obvious or insidious, persistent or an isolated incident, in writing by letter, note or email, by phone, via  social media, or face-to-face.

Does it really happen?

The problem with a lot of workplace bullying is that it can be hidden and subtle and therefore not always obvious or apparent to employers. Equally, depending on the culture of an organisation, workplace bullying may or may not be taken seriously by the organisation or by its managers. Bullying behaviour may be dismissed as ‘a clash of personalities’, ‘a different management style’, ‘good old banter’, ‘just character building’, or the victim being ‘too sensitive’ or ‘highly strung’. Comments, complaints or accusations of bullying should never be dismissed or ignored and should always be investigated. However, employers also need to be aware that the term ‘bully’, if used wrongly or vindictively, can create hostilities and tensions between individuals and/or groups.

Employer Responsibilities

Workplace bullying is a serious issue affecting motivation and confidence, as well as being a major risk-factor for health issues, including stress, anxiety and depression. Although bullying itself may not be against the law, employers have a duty of care for the health, safety and well-being of all their people whilst at work and a legal responsibility to provide a healthy and safe work environment. If bullying is connected with some form of harassment, this does have specific legal protection under the Equalities Act 2010.

Bullying can occur within any type of organisation, big or small, to anyone and by anyone. Workplace bullying is not only detrimental to the victims, but also damaging to an organisation’s productivity levels due to poor morale and increased levels of absenteeism. However, there are plenty of actions employers can take to provide a safer, more respectful work environment and protect their people from bullying:

Establish a Safe and Supportive Culture

  • Ensure there is a genuine commitment from the top of the organisation that all workers should be treated with dignity and respect.
  • Adopt positive leadership styles that promote honesty, openness, collaboration and teamwork.
  • Reduce stressful working conditions and environments.
  • Communicate clear codes of conduct for all workers, including expectations regarding the use of social media in and outside the organisation.
  • Ensure everyone has access to easy to understand guidelines to follow if they have concerns or complaints, including formal grievance procedures.
  • Ensure employees are made aware of formal disciplinary procedures and sanctions that may be imposed if complaints of bullying are upheld.
  • Equip managers with the skills to deal with situations of inappropriate workplace behaviour as soon as possible, including how to resolve issues informally or formally and how to manage disruption and tensions resulting from bullying charges.
  • Make sure senior managers remain vigilant and follow-through with appropriate disciplinary measures if required.
  • Provide access to suitable mediation services that can help improve damaged relationships between people.
  • Ensure senior managers monitor staff morale and engagement.

Raise Awareness

  • Ensure all managers and workers have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities regarding the health, safety and well-being of themselves and colleagues.
  • Provide appropriate induction and awareness guidance and training to help individuals and groups recognise bullying behaviour in the workplace.
  • Help people differentiate between bullying and other inappropriate behaviours such as poor communication, poor management skills, or a thoughtless joke, so that the most helpful interventions can be accessed and implemented.

Help reduce the negative impacts that bullying can have on both employers and their employees, by implementing these actions in your workplace.


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