Stand up to workplace bullies

Have you ever had to stand up to workplace bullies?

The word BULLY in red with bullying words on it like attack, pick-on and bait - stand up to workplace bullies
Stand up to workplace bullies — image by Pixabay

Have you ever been bullied in your workplace? Or elsewhere? Have you ever had to stand up to work workplace bullies? I have. I tried many times as a mental health student and nurse, to no avail. There was always someone more senior telling me to forget it. The managers either couldn’t be bothered or didn’t have the skills to deal with the bullies. So on it went, long after I left, the bullies kept on bullying.

What is bullying?

“Bullying is the behaviour of a person who hurts or frightens someone smaller or less powerful, often forcing that person to do something they do not want to do.”

Cambridge Dictionary

“Bullying is an ongoing and deliberate misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that intends to cause physical, social and/or psychological harm. It can involve an individual or a group misusing their power, or perceived power, over one or more persons who feel unable to stop it from happening.”

National Centre Against Bullying

Bullies and harassment in the workplace

Picture of globe with little people various colours all holding hands around the outside. About Bullies in the workplace around the world
Bullies in the workplace around the world —

Bullying is a serious issue in workplaces around the world, and is a risk factor for anxiety, depression and suicide. It doesn’t just hurt those being bullied. Employees who witness colleagues being bullied may experience adverse health effects. The wider workplace might feel it too, through low morale, higher absenteeism and lost productivity. Further negative consequences are poor team dynamics, reduced trust, effort, and loyalty from employees. On top of that, there’s the time spent documenting, pursuing or defending claims.

According to Unison, bullies, bullying and harassment are common problems affecting many members in the workplace. But both bullying and harassment are unacceptable, and the law makes it clear that all employees have the right to work in a safe environment.

Your employer is responsible for creating and maintaining a safe workplace, free from bullying, intimidation and harassment. Employees are protected by a combination of employers’ policies and legislation.

Bullying is behaviour from a person or people that you don’t want and makes you feel awkward, distressed or uncomfortable, including feeling:

  • intimidated or afraid
  • upset, offended or insulted
  • disrespected or put down
  • humiliated or laughed at

Examples of bullying in the workplace

Coloured image of young female holding files and two colleagues standing behind, talking about her
Bullies in the workplace
  • you don’t receive a promotion while you deserve one
  • your manager won’t allow you go on training courses that everyone else gets to attend, holding you back in some way
  • You are criticised about performance, or blamed for others’ mistakes
  • your manager always gives you way more work than others
  • someone’s telling lies or makes up malicious and false rumours about you
  • someone keeps dismissing your input or putting you down in front of others, say in meetings
  • colleagues or your manager never invite you to attend social events
  • targeted for practical jokes
  • being purposely misled about work duties, like incorrect deadlines or unclear directions
  • continued denial of requests for time off without an appropriate or valid reason

Bullying might:

  • occur during face-to-face meetings, during phone calls, in emails, or even on social media
  • happen just the once or on a more regular basis
  • be unseen by others
  • happen in the workplace, during breaks or at work social events

The above lists are by no means an exhaustive but they give an indication of the many ways bullying exists in the workplace.

When bullying is harassment

Word cloud illustration in shape of hand print showing protest.
Stop bullying and harassment — Image from Word cloud illustration

By law, says Acas, it’s harassment when bullying or unwanted behaviour is about any of the following (known as ‘protected characteristics’):

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment. Or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a workplace that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

Everyone deserves to work in a setting where they feel safe, and it’s expected that the workplace will be free of bullying or harassment of any kind. Employers have a moral and legal obligation to ensure that these expectations are met. Moreover, make sure you are not the bully and don’t let anyone else be one.

What to do about workplace bullying

Word cloud illustration in shape of brain with text harassment, bullying, intimidation
Nobody deserves to be bullied in the workplace

If you’ve witnessed workplace bullying, you must first and foremost talk about it. This may be with the victim (e.g. asking how they are doing), or others (which may be about forming a plan for how to address it, or may be just sharing experiences),” says Professor Jeremy Dawson. He also encourages employees to report bullying in any way possible – through official channels, a line manager or another trusted colleague.

Don’t be ashamed to tell people what’s going on. Bullying is serious, and you must let people know what’s going on, so they can help you. In sharing your experience, you might find out that it’s happening to other people too, as it often is.

The NHS say

Five people all wearing suits, standing in a circle hold a white poster with red writing - says No to bullying
Would you report bullies in the workplace?

Get advice. Speak to someone about how you might deal with the problem informally, such as:

  • an employee representative, such as a trade union official
  • someone in the firm’s human resources department
  • your manager or supervisor

Some employers have specially trained staff to help with bullying and harassment problems. They’re sometimes called “harassment advisers”. If the bullying is affecting your health, visit your GP.

Stay calm. Recognise that criticism or personal remarks are not connected to your abilities. They reflect the bully’s own weaknesses, and are meant to intimidate and control you. Stay calm, and do not be tempted to explain your behaviour. Ask them to explain theirs. Never get into a shouting match with the bully and walk out if you have to.

Talk to the bully. The bullying may not be deliberate. If you can, talk to the person in question as they may not realise how their behaviour has affected you. Work out what to say beforehand. Describe what’s been happening and why you object to it. Stay calm and be polite. If you do not want to talk to them yourself, ask someone else to do it for you.

Keep a diary, which is known as a contemporaneous record and will be very useful if you decide to take action at a later stage.

Try to talk — calmly to the person who’s bullying you, and tell them that you find their behaviour unacceptable. Often, bullies retreat from people who stand up to them. If necessary have a colleague with you when you do this.

Making it formal

Man reading and following work grievance procedure for bullying.
Bullying and following grievance procedure — Image Freerangestock

Make a formal complaint — it’s the next step if you cannot solve the problem informally. To do this, you must follow your employer’s grievance procedure. Make sure you follow policies to the letter. Because if you have to take it further, you don’t want lose a case because of a simple error.

What about legal action? — Even after you’ve followed your employer’s grievance procedure, the problem sometimes continues. Do something to put things right, you can consider legal action, which may mean going to an employment tribunal. Get professional advice before taking this step.

Find out more about the law covering workplace bullying from GOV.UK: workplace bullying and harassment.

Where to get help

If you are affected by bullying and harassment contact your UNISON representative or Citizens Advice Bureau for advice.

Let your manager or union or staff representative know of the problem and seek advice elsewhere:

Over to you

What do you think?

What do you think about workplace bullies? What, if anything, would you do or say if you were being bullied by a colleague. Would you move to another department or leave your job? I’\m really interested to hear what you think. and I’m happy to answer any questions.


Mum to two amazing sons. Following recovery from a lengthy psychotic episode, depression, anxiety and anorexia, I decided to train as a Mental Health Nurse and worked successfully in various settings before becoming a Ward Manager. I am a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and a Mental Health Awareness Trainer, Mental Health First Aid Youth and Mental Health Armed Forces Instructor. Just started my mental health from the other side blog.

35 thoughts on “Stand up to workplace bullies”

  1. Yes, definitely keep a record of events. I did for months which was bullying coming from different angles.
    The most serious bully and how he handled everything wrong, meant when I complained about him, I pulled out my book, gave the dates and what happened at each. There was already something going round months before about an incident. I don’t know if this was true. But when I raised about mine, his position changed to a lower level. He wasn’t a position under boss. He was back to just supervisor. And my god, he was nice as pie after that. But I was waiting for him to faulter again. But he didn’t. He behaved in a better manner still. But I was glad to leave and be where I am now.

      1. Couldn’t believe how changed for the better he was. But because I couldn’t believe it, I was still waiting for that slip up.
        I always wondered if it was very hard to be pleasant and watching how he spoke.

  2. It seems like just about every job I’ve ever had there is always one or two who just have to try and bully people as much as possible. In my present job there is a girl who is always trying to bully me around. I try to just ignore her or stand up for myself as much as problem possible. I really don’t like working with her at all though!

    I don’t get it. I suppose that’s the only way some people can feel good about themselves 😕

    1. There’s much better to ways to feeling good about yourself tho eh? Lol – like being nice to people, telling they’re doing a good job and not being a damn bully! x

  3. I talked to a lawyer, and while he thought I had a pretty good case, the employer’s lawyer said they weren’t prepared to negotiate, so I would’ve had to go to court. And had it not gone my way, that would have been insanely expensive for me, so I dropped the issue.

    1. Wow, not good. Here in the UK, the NHS normally paid out because they knew it would cost close to £250,000 just to go to court. My senior manager said it was quicker and cheaper to pay people out 🙁 And that’s how a few rotten nurses managed to make regular claims!

  4. I’ve seen shouting on the work floor and in meetings. It’s very disrespectful and management wasn’t really into solving the problem. One person was advised to read about aggression and how to manage or channel it. She was advised to read it at home and than have a conversation about it.
    I think they took the two shouters apart to talk things out.
    I’ve not been bullied but I know that there were ‘rumors’ spread around that I did something wrong (something very serious) while I followed doctors orders. I talked it out with the person in question but it took two months before I knew what was being said and by whom. Not very fun nor loyal when working with paranoid schizophrenics and knowing that your colleagues don’t have your back. Patients notice those things too you know. That was the most disgraceful thing in my eyes, that sometimes patients were involved in the craziness of the staff.

    1. Ooh, not a good look – shouting on the work floor! And that wasn’t great management of the situation either 🙁
      You’re right too, patients don’t have anything much to do but watch the staff and their interactions. They can spot a ‘chink’ anytime! Yes, it’s horrible when staff do that too, I only had a doctor do it once and I was furious but at least he told me himself (after he’d told everyone else, in my absence) and it was sorted out quickly. He was totally wrong in what he said and should have spoken to me first 🙁 just as your coworker should have spoken to you!

  5. Yeah, I was bullied by cruel coworkers who mocked me at every turn. I still hope that Teresa Gail Lackey is dead. Worthless piece of human waste. It drove me insane. But now I get the big disability bucks and the fancy diagnoses, so it’s all good!!

  6. Another awesome post from you. May I feature this on my website as guest post? This is an important message I want to send out to others.

      1. Thank you for your generosity and kindness. I count my good fortune to know someone like you who change the world in her own way.

  7. I’ve had so many workplace bullies. Some were allowed to say what would be classified in the West as “hate speech”. How timely to see this post by you, a former colleague just messaged me a few hours ago. My most recent workplace bully (before I went on unpaid leave for burning out) has died from cancer…

    1. It’s just terrible that bullying goes on and people just don’t care! Workplaces especially should have programmes in place to stop the bullying!

      Oh dear shame someone died, but I hope you won’t shed any tears! I can’t stand bullies! It’s a shame you’re not working because of it and I hope you pick up some tips along the way – to deal with bullies. Don’t let them get away with it please. Big hugs x

      1. Hugs! Hopefully I’ll be resuming work soon. My T and I *definitely* need to nudge me towards learning and practicing assertiveness skills. I have to admit a part of me was not at all assertive because I believed I deserved no better. But now I do, partly because of friends like you who have stood fast with me even when I was trapped with my abusive family. That has helped me in so many ways and I will not ever blame myself for the workplace bullying I have experienced again. Big hugs!

      2. Oh yes, I get where you’re coming from – not believing that we deserved better! And I’m so happy to read that you now feel differently – it feel so much nicer doesn’t it 🙂

        I think we’ve all been supported by our wonderful blogging pals, particularly through the tough times. I’m really happy to read that you’ve felt supported and found it all helpful too.

        Like you said, keep practising your assertiveness skills – I know it feels odd and difficult at times but it goes get easier. And you’ve got us all to support you where needed and to cheer you on.

        I really look forward to hearing how you get on in your new job and how you’ve been able to use new skills 🙂 And in the meantime, big hugs to you!

  8. I’ve experienced “mobbing” (workplace bullying by multiple people all on me), rape threats, sexual harrassment, being tricked into watching pornography at work, hate speech. Without recourse to a HR because there are no “protected classes” in my country. It has all left scars. I even had a therapist victim blame me and saying I allowed it and I needed to stop being a victim. I did NOT have the money for an expensive court case.

    1. Oh my word. That’s disgusting – what has happened to you! How are they allowed to get away with this? And that therapist should give up the job because he/she obviously doesn’t know what counselling/therapy is. To blame you must make it feel 10 times worse.

      Oh my heart goes out to you. I really hope you have family or friends you can lean on for support. Particularly someone who believes you! Sending you big hugs x

      1. Big Hugs.

        It happened about 5 years ago and doesn’t hurt so intensely now, but some days it twinges, if I make sense? Fortunately my current therapist is fabulous and I’ve healed from _some_ of it. So grateful she believed me and was appalled for me. That emotional response was so healing.

        Some time thus year, without sharing graphic details of my story, I managed to hold space for a stranger a friend introduced to me who was experiencing VERY similar things, just not at work but in her own neighbourhood.

  9. Such a great topic. I experienced workplace bullying for several years. Fortunately I had an amazing union rep from unison who stood up for me and challenged them at every opportunity. When he left it went downhill from there and I was forced to leave. I often think about the events and I still hold onto all the records thinking one day I might find the strength to bring some closure. As time goes on you heal and I’m definitely more confident now. I dare any employer to try me again. I definitely agree with speaking up. Making things formal. We often associate bullies with childhood, but it doesn’t end there and it doesn’t end if you continue to let it. I would encourage following your how to handle. Though it might feel scary, you’ll find strength through the correct process.

    1. Oh wow, that’s awful Alice. And the fact that it went downhill after your union rep left is even more shocking. You’d have thought that the bullies would have learned from the first time round……. Oh, and the fact that you were forced to leave. It’s a shame you didn’t take them to tribunal

      I get that you’re holding on to all the records – I’ve still got mine – and it makes me so angry that I didn’t actually take it to court!! Perhaps we need to throw all our old records away and move on lol.

      That’s really good to hear that you won’t allow an employer to speak to you like that again! Even happier that you think speaking up is good – it really is, and making things formal. You go for it and don’t let anyone stand in your way again – proud of you!

      Yes, you’d think they were all kids in the playground, fighting to get one over on you!

      It does feel quite scary when you try something new, behave differently, but it’s certainly better to speak up than be bullied again. I love your strength now and I look forward to reading more of your journey. Caz x

  10. I was fortunate enough to hire on at my workplace just after a manager who bullied left. The people who had to work with the bully had stories of being reduced to tears. Not only were the memories upsetting, I think they made it harder for them to trust new managers as well.

    1. Really happy to hear that you didn’t experience the bullying. I certainly empathise with your colleagues who did and understand their being reduced to tears.

      Imagine how that feels – a grown woman reduced to tears! AArrrgghhh!

      And yes, they’ll definitely be slightly suspicious of new managers but if they all learn to speak up, assert themselves and not allow bullying, it will stop. Looking forward to hearing how it goes 🙂

  11. It’s so sad how common workplace bullying is and how a lot of people are afraid to speak out about it because they’re afraid they may lose their jobs or worse.

      1. One thing I’ve learnt is that a lot of people remain the way they were in high school as adults as well. Especially people who were bullies.

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