How to Deal with Being Bullied at Work

Bullying is a major cause of stress in the workplace and can have a hugely negative impact on personal mental health and individual careers. We take a closer look at the different types of bullying, why it happens and how you can best deal with it should you feel you are suffering.

What is bullying?

There are lots of different definitions.

Bullying is often thought of as being aggressive behaviour, with a bully shouting and yelling at people, being aggressive and rude. It can however, involve more subtle insidious behaviour, with the bully trying to just constantly chip away at a person - perhaps giving them constant but unwarranted criticism, or undermining them in front of others, or in private.

Other forms of bullying can include taking away responsibilities from someone, and perhaps belittling them by replacing a more responsible task with a more trivial one. Other bullying behaviour might include ignoring someone, or excluding them from activities, or perhaps overloading them with work, often with unrealistic deadlines.

In simple terms then if someone feels that they are being singled out for unfair treatment by a manager or a colleague, they are probably being bullied. It's as simple as that - although sometimes a person may not know they are being bullied, but will be the victim of derogatory comments or jokes behind their back.

Why it happens

In some cases, people are bullied because a manager or colleague wants them out, or there can be issues around gender, race, or sexuality - but often it's simply a personality clash between people, with one person exerting their power over another.

It is worth noting that bullying is prevalent in almost all industry sectors, not just ones which might be thought of as hot-headed or temperamental working environments, like say, trading floors, or kitchens; it also happens in sectors where people have been professionally trained in personal relationships and caring, like social work and healthcare.

However, it isn't always the strong picking on the weak. A bully could feel threatened by someone else's greater strengths or abilities, and begin to bully that person to try and control or intimidate them, and inhibit their success.
Irrespective of the reasons however, if someone is bullying another person then it is wrong.

What to do if you're being bullied at work.

If you feel you are being singled out or bullied, you shouldn't have to put up with it. The following steps should help whatever your situation. Remember, the worst thing is to do nothing and hope it goes away.

1. Tell someone about it

Don't suffer in silence - be sure to tell a friend or work colleague about it. Since most bullying is behind not out in the open, telling someone you know is a very positive first step to take, especially as it may well be that you are not the first person to have suffered at this person's hands. Depending on your workplace and the situation, you could also talk to your manager (assuming they themselves are not the cause; if they are, then speak to that person's manager instead. You could also talk directly to someone in your HR team who should take you seriously, or a trade union or other employee representative.

2. Look after yourself

Being the victim of bullying doesn't just make your work life a misery, it can also affect your overall physical and mental health and sense of wellbeing. Symptoms can include stress, headaches, anxiety, raised blood pressure, sleeplessness, loss of confidence, tearfulness, feeling sick, ulcers, rashes, irritable bowel syndrome, and other illnesses besides, as well as suicidal thoughts. If you feel that your health is being affected, be sure to visit your doctor.

3. Don't blame yourself.

Realise that if you are being criticised unfairly or personal remarks are being made that undermine you, then this may not really be about you, as just the result of the bully's own weaknesses, fears, biases and flaws. In some cases it may be that the bully has always behaved in this way - and that they feel that their behaviour is necessary - even justified - to get the job done. However, whatever the culture of the organisation or the style of the individual, bullying others is not an acceptable means to an end. If you can, keep calm and positive about the situation, and you will be best able to not only help yourself, but others who might one day be in the same situation as you, because of the same person.

4. Keep records

Make notes every time a bullying incident occurs. Send yourself an email or write it down in a diary so that you have a contemporaneous record. Your employer has a duty to you and if you need to take action, or take your complaint further, having notes taken at the time will prove very useful and harder to dispute, and you will expend less energy and worry trying to remember all the details of events that might prove to be important when considered as part of a pattern of behaviour over a period of time.

5. Speak up

If you feel confident to do so, then talk directly to the bully. If you don't feel too intimidated by the situation, then this can be the best way to nip the situation in the bud. If need be, do it with the help of someone else present. Keep calm, and tell them what aspects of their behaviour you find unacceptable - and why - and ask them to stop. This might be all that you need to do. Most bullies stop bullying those who stand up to them and call out their behaviour, especially when they do it in a calm and confident manner.

6. Make a formal complaint

Remember, bullying is recognised as a major cause of stress in the workplace and by law it must be dealt with like any other health and safety hazard. If you find that informal steps have not solved the problem, then you may need to take it further and use your employer's grievance procedure to make a formal complaint. You should be taken seriously for your own sake - but because your employer should also want to do so avoid the cost to them of low morale, reduced output, staff turnover, and loss of experienced, quality team members, who may be off sick, or leave the organisation if their issues are not taken seriously. Always ensure you go to any meeting about your complaint with a colleague accompanying you.    

7. The last resort

The final recourse, should nothing have been done to stamp out the problem, would be to consider legal action. You can't take an employer to a tribunal over perceived or actual bullying, though were you to resign and claim a constructive dismissal, this would be potentially something you could make a claim to an employment tribunal for. Way before this stage though, do explore all the other steps above. In addition, taking professional advice from a specialist lawyer or advice agency would be absolutely essential.


Further help and support:

Bully Online  - a major resource for everything on bullying at work and related issues including stress, PTSD and bullying-related suicide

Bullying, - part of the Family Lives website, and with a whole section on workplace bullying

Gov UK - information and resources relating to workplace bullying and harassment

Citizens Information (Ireland) - comprehensive information on public services and entitlements of citizens in Ireland.