How to deal with workplace bullying

Bullying and harassment in the workplace has been much in the news of late in the wake of the #MeToo movement and discussion around the gender pay gap.

Mental Health - a women holding her head


The recent news coverage of non-disclosure agreements centres around employees being corralled into signing gagging clauses preventing them from speaking out about workplace harassment.  Soaring figures on pregnancy and maternity discrimination include a lot of cases of bullying, including Anwyn Rowberry who took her employer to court after finding her job had effectively been given away after her maternity leave. Here gives some advice on how to deal with intimidating and undermining behaviour at work.

Workplace bullying can take many forms, ranging from direct shouting and intimidation to attempts to undermine, such as holding important meetings on days you are not in the office. While some comments may be throwaway remarks, what characterises bullying is a sustained effort to diminish individuals. This can be emotionally damaging, having a lasting impact on confidence.

Below are some practical steps you can take.

Practical steps

Bullying often thrives on secrecy and bullies may back down when they are confronted so it can be helpful for you to talk about what is happening and to find ways of telling the ‘bully’ to stop. If your workplace has a union, this can often be a source of support.

Specific things you can do:

1. Make a list of each and every incident, however trivial it seems at the time. Often bullying can take place over weeks or months and it is the build-up of events that is so hard to deal with. You need to keep a note of the date, time, location and any witnesses as well as details of the incident itself.

2. Talking  to someone will help you feel less isolated. While friends and family are great for support and comfort, they may not always be objective enough to tell you if you might be over-reacting so try and find someone who is objective and trustworthy.

3. You should also inform someone in seniority in your organisation (e.g. a line manager or someone in HR) that you are being bullied. This is to ensure that you are following the formal procedures.

4. If you feel able to, you need to tell the ‘bully’ to stop doing whatever it is that is upsetting you. It might be possible that the ‘bully’ does not realise the effect on you of what they are doing or saying. If they are acting intentionally then they also need to be made aware of the distress they are causing and be given a chance to stop before any formal action can be taken. It can be easier to address the ‘bully’ if you have a trusted supporter with you. The way to deliver the message is by describing the behaviour in as neutral a way as possible and how if affects you. For example, “when you  hold team meetings on my days off, I feel excluded from the team”.

Emotional aspects

Bullying can often make the recipient feel afraid, undermined and ashamed. This can stop you from speaking out about what is happening. You may imagine it is all in your head. This is why it is important to confide in someone and to start making contemporaneous notes of what is happening.

If you have attempted to tell the bully to stop and it has not made any difference or if you don’t feel able to do so, you should inform your line manager [if the bully is not your line manager] and HR. If no action is taken, you can consider taking out a grievance.

Depending on the circumstances, it may be advisable to take a witness with you to any grievance hearing so they can vouch for what is said and to give you moral support.

The emotional damage can be substantial and you may find your confidence is undermined. If so, it is essential to surround yourself with people who believe in you and respect you. They can help you to re-build your self-belief. This is where friends and family have a key role to play.

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