Bullying might seem like a playground issue, but the reality is it’s a major problem in UK workplaces too.
There are many types of bullying - from bosses unfairly dismissing employees via email to line managers making decisions without following proper procedure (according to the National Bullying Helpline, the latter is more common than you’d think).
While most people consider workplace bullying to be verbal, that’s not to say physical bullying is unheard of either.
“We have known about cases where physical assaults have taken place,” Christine Pratt, founder of The National Bullying Helpline, tells HuffPost UK. “One factory foreman recently beat a member of his team up just because he feared that employee would ‘whistle-blow’ on his operational practices.”
To coincide with Anti-Bullying Week, beginning on 13 November, we spoke to experts about how to spot the signs of bullying and tips on taking action.
What is workplace bullying?
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) defines workplace bullying as “offensive, intimidating, malicious, insulting or humiliating behaviour, abuse of power or authority which attempts to undermine an individual or group of employees and which may cause them to suffer stress”.
Bullying can occur face-to-face, by letter, email or phone. Examples of bullying behaviour include:
:: Criticising competent staff, taking their responsibilities away or giving them trivial tasks to do
:: Shouting at staff
:: Spreading malicious rumours about another member of staff
:: Persistently picking on people, or undermining them, in front of others or in private
:: Blocking promotion
:: Regularly and deliberately ignoring or excluding individuals from work activities
:: Setting a person up to fail by overloading them with work or setting impossible deadlines
:: Consistently attacking a member of staff in terms of their professional or personal standing
:: Regularly making the same member of staff the butt of jokes.
A survey by the TUC revealed that nearly a third of people have been bullied at work - with women experiencing it more than men. The highest prevalence of workplace bullying is among 40 to 59-year-olds, where 34% of people are affected. And, rather shockingly, in nearly three-quarters (72%) of cases, bullying is carried out by a manager.
How to know if you’re being bullied
“If you think you are being bullied, you probably are,” says Christine Pratt.
Experts agree that if your health is suffering as a result of being bullied, or if you are a bystander of bullying, you have a duty to report it to your employer.
Sometimes bullying can result in stress and ill-health. People who are being bullied might experience anxiety, headaches, nausea, ulcers, sleeplessness, skin rashes, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, tearfulness, loss of self-confidence and, in extreme cases, thoughts of suicide.
Employers have a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees. If a victim’s pleas go unheard, employers and bullies risk facing fines, compensation and in some cases even a jail sentence.
What to do if you’re being bullied at work
If you’re being bullied at work, you should try to sort out the problem informally first, according to gov.uk. Advice from mental health charity Mind is that you should calmly explain the situation and your feelings to the person.
The TUC has published official guidance on what to do if you feel you are being bullied at work. It suggests that you:
:: Talk to someone and get some support
:: Keep a diary of the bullying - Christine Pratt, from the National Bullying Helpline, advises people to make reference to times, dates and circumstances. “Your diary will constitute evidence at the end of the day and will help your employer investigate matters,” she explains.
:: If you can, tell the bully that you find their behaviour unacceptable and ask them to stop
:: Tell your manager (or more senior manager) and show your evidence
:: Join a union, so you’re better protected at work
:: Always take a union rep or a friend with you to any meetings about a formal complaint.
If your employer fails to tackle workplace bullying, you can make a formal complaint via the company’s grievance procedure. If that doesn’t work, and you’re still being harassed, you can take things further to an employment tribunal.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady tells HuffPost UK: “Employers must do all they can to support victims coming forward. This means having a zero-tolerance policy and ensuring people don’t suffer in silence.
“Bullying can be hugely damaging to staff and creates a toxic working environment. Anyone worried about it should join a union, to get their voice heard and their interests represented.”