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Bullying in the workplace

Aggressive manager pointing & Bullying

Sadly, nearly a third of people in the UK have been bullied at work (Trades Union Congress, 2015).

Bullying can be characterised as: offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour.

Bullying in the workplace can leave you feeling anxious at the thought of going into work and have a knock-on effect on mental health and social wellbeing.

Did you know?

(From a large UK study by UMIST)

  • 1 in 10 workers have been bullied in the last six months
  • 1 in 4 workers have been bullied in the past five years
  • About 47% of workers have witnessed bullying at work
  • Equal number of men and women have reported bullying

How bullying in the workplace can impact your health

  • Can result in psychological health problems such as; depression, anxiety, tearfulness or low self esteem
  • Other physical health problems can include:
    • Headaches
    • Nausea
    • Ulcers
    • Sleeplessness
    • High blood pressure
  • Work performance can also be affected

What is workplace bullying?

Bullying behaviour can take many forms and may vary depending on the workplace and sector, but some examples are:

  • Physical abuse
  • Aggressive behaviour, shouting, making threats
  • Constantly putting you down, embarrassing you or making jokes about you
  • Spreading malicious rumours
  • Undermining your integrity
  • Withholding information deliberately
  • Posting derogatory comments about you online
  • Regularly ignoring or excluding you
  • Making constant criticism
  • Removing responsibility for no good reason
  • Taking credit for your work
  • Setting you up to fail or constantly undermining you
  • Using power to make you feel threatened or uncomfortable
  • Making unfounded threats about job security
  • Blocking promotion

A bully may try to make you feel as if their behaviour is somehow your fault, but a common feature of psychological bullying is to make a person feel useless and believe that they brought it on themselves. You can read a personal account of workplace bullying on our blog.

Myths about bullying

Perpetrators – and sometimes managers in an organisation with a bullying work culture – may try to explain away their actions with a variety of excuses.

“It’s just a joke/banter!” – jokes and banter are meant to be reciprocal and invite a friendly, jokey response. If comments are only being aimed at one person or only one person is doing the dishing out, then it may be bullying. Deeply personal comments – for example those that make you out to be incompetent, or target personal traits or perceived weaknesses – are not a joke.

“It’s not bullying – it’s a tough style of management” – good managers don’t need to scare those who work for them. If you feel threatened, this is bullying.

“They’re just being assertive” – assertiveness is about putting forward your views directly, firmly and with control. It’s not about being threatening or abusive.

“People are bullied because they’re weak/oversensitive” – bullies target people because they feel the need to exert control, cover up their own inadequacies or progress up the career ladder. Far from being weak, a person may be bullied because the bully feels they are talented and competition for a promotion.

“They need toughening up” – far from building ‘character’, bullying can have a negative effect on a person’s mental and social health. No-one bullies for the benefit of the person they’re targeting – it’s just an excuse to hide behind.

What can you do if you’re being bullied?

Talk to someone you trust about what’s been happening and how it makes you feel. They may not be able to solve the issue, but you won’t have to feel as if you’re facing the bully alone.

You may also find it helpful to read our blogs on caring for your mental health, improving your confidence and reducing stress.

Try to avoid retaliating against the bully. If you remain calm and polite, then it will be obvious who is at fault. Remember, if you feel unsafe, there is always the option to walk away.

If you feel safe and comfortable, try talking to the bully about what’s been happening. It may not have been deliberate. Describe what’s been happening, how it makes you feel and why you object to it (it may help to work out what you want to say beforehand, and practice on a friend or family member). Stay calm and polite, and let them know that you will have to make an official complaint if things don’t improve.

Keep a diary –  this will provide you with vital information of the nature of the bullying and when it occurred. This will be very important when the bully is confronted. With a diary, you will be establishing a pattern over a period of time. 

  • Date
  • Time
  • Place
  • Who was involved
  • What happened
  • Names of witnesses

You should also keep any relevant emails, notes or screenshots of social media posts. These will be useful if you decide to take more formal action.

If the bullying continues – or an informal chat isn’t an option – then speak to your manager, HR department or trade union. 

If the bullying doesn’t stop or you’re not happy with how the situation has been dealt with, then you can make an official complaint. Your employer should have provided you with details of grievance procedures.

Your employer has a legal obligation to protect you from abuse. If nothing’s been done, you can consider legal action, but you should seek professional advice beforehand. You can find out more about the laws covering bullying on the government’s website.

We’re here

Ben is here to provide support for life to those who work in the UK’s automotive industry and their family dependants. You can ring our free, confidential helpline on 08081 311 333 or use our online chat.


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