How to Beat Bullying at Work

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According to a 2010 TUC survey, one third of safety representatives reported bullying at work as a problem.  In addition, the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development reports that bullying, harassment and victimisation are ongoing issues in UK organisations.  You only have to look at the recent news to find an example of sexual harassment allegations made against Lord Rennard, previously a senior figure in the Liberal Democrat party.

Harassment and bullying at work is a live and toxic aspect of day-to-day business in Britain.  The behaviour behind it can range from personal insults to physical contact or assault and the effects can be devastating for the victims and costly for employers.  So what can you do if you are being bullied or on the receiving end of unwanted and inappropriate attention?

Strategies for Stopping Bullying at Work

Recognise What is Happening So That You Can Do Something About It.

At its heart, bullying is about the wielding of power.  Bullies behave in that way because they believe (and make you believe) that they are in control.  Some behaviour is so subtle that it can take a while for people to realise that they are, in fact, being bullied: snipes, open criticism, barbed banter and practical jokes can, when taken together, amount to a campaign of victimisation.  The first step, then, is for you to realise that what’s happening to you is unacceptable and that it is has to stop.

Many people who are victims of bullying at work feel embarrassed or ashamed that they have accepted this treatment.  However, it’s the bully’s behaviour that’s at fault, not yours.  You should accept that you need to get help to resolve the problem and that it’s a sign of strength, not weakness, to do this.

Counselling groups can help you to recognise what is happening to you and to manage the emotional damage that has been caused.  If you’re a member of a trade union, one of its representatives should be able to provide support or your employer may offer counselling services to staff as part of the benefits package.

Prepare to Disclose

One person’s bullying is another person’s ‘robust management’ or ‘harmless fun’.  It may be that the bully doesn’t even perceive any wrongdoing in their actions so it’s essential that you gather evidence.  You should keep a record of each instance of bullying at work and be specific and factual.  What did the bully say exactly?  What did they do?  Who witnessed the behaviour?  What was the impact on your work?

It’s important to establish a pattern of behaviour to demonstrate that bullying or victimisation is occurring.  By creating a record, you will be in a far stronger position to make a stand.  If any emails or memos from the bully help to establish your case, print them off and keep them with your records.  Also, get access to your employer’s policies on bullying and harassment and managing grievances.  If they don’t have any in place, download the ACAS guide on bullying and harassment for employers so that you can learn about any company’s responsibilities towards their staff.

Tell Your Employer.

When you believe that you have enough evidence, it’s time to inform your employer about the treatment you have received.  If your employer has an open culture and a good reputation for dealing with problems fairly, you may choose to arrange a meeting with a senior manager or someone from HR and disclose what has been happening.  However, if you’re uncertain on how your employer will react, you should use raise a formal grievance.  Use ACAS for guidance on how to do this but the main principle is to remove as much emotion as you can when you write everything down.  Describe each incidence of bullying at work factually and provide dates and times wherever you can or enclose a copy of the evidence that you gathered.

It’s also worthwhile reminding your employer of its duty of care towards all of its employees and the maintenance of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence.  Employers can be vicariously liable for the actions of their employees so they have a responsibility to protect staff from any inappropriate behaviour.

What you Should Expect to Happen.

Your employer will be obliged to investigate your grievance thoroughly and should also prevent contact between you and the bully as far as is possible.  If you still have to deal with the bully while the investigation is carried out, make sure that you report any further instances of harassment and bullying at work and keep notes of how your employer is managing the issue.

A good employer will stamp out the inappropriate behaviour.  However, if companies fail to deal with bullying in a proper manner, some employees feel compelled to resign and claim constructive dismissal at tribunal.  If your employer doesn’t resolve things to your satisfaction, you should always seek advice before deciding what to do next.

Have you successfully dealt with a bully in your workplace?  Please share your experience with others below.


photo credit: Clay Frame via photopin cc


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