Have you ever had to stand up to workplace bullies?
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
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
- 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
- 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
By law, says Acas, it’s harassment when bullying or unwanted behaviour is about any of the following (known as ‘protected characteristics’):
- gender reassignment
- pregnancy and maternity
- religion or belief
- 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
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
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
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 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.