Workplace bullying is a significant problem with record numbers of people reporting being bullied in the workplace.
As adults, we do not lose that nightmarish dread we had of playground bullying as a child. The level of anxiety caused can be real and potentially harmful over the long-term.
The statistics might not reveal the true extent of the issue. Many people bullied stay silent because they are concerned that employers will be slow to react or underestimate the impact. The sense of helplessness and isolation can hinder both career development and mental health.
This guide aims to help you make the first steps to feeling safe at work again.
Identifying bullying in the workplace
You may think yourself too experienced and too steely to be upset by the intimidation in the workplace. However, the behaviour of your supervisor, manager or even a colleague could be slowly impacting your sense of wellbeing.
Bullying is behaviour that is repeated time and again, aimed at making you feel unsure of yourself and your work. This behaviour should not be mistaken as constructive feedback – as the aim of the comments is to upset and unnerve you.
Examples of bullying in the workplace could include: rudeness; purposely excluding you; making comments or insults that make you feel uncomfortable; spreading rumours; making up lies about you; treating you differently to colleagues in terms of workload, and making degrading remarks about your work. These are just a few examples, as bullying in the workplace can take many forms.
You should also be aware that messages through email, social media, over the phone or on notice boards is still bullying and no less serious than face-to-face comments.
The seven types of bully you might meet
We all might have a fixed idea of what being a bully means. However, there are many forms a bully can take.
- Being two-faced: saying one thing to you and saying different things to other people.
- The extreme critic: finding everything possible to say that is a putdown, whether to your work, personality or appearance.
- Narcissistic: the bully who needs to be at the centre of attention and will use all opportunities to draw attention to their brilliance by putting your work down.
- Power tripper: the person who always uses a small amount of power to get one over on colleagues. This may mean taking credit for your work, or it may be the silent treatment
- Saboteur: someone who makes it difficult for you to do your job. They may give you the wrong deadline or miss you out of an email.
- Prankster: all harmful behaviour is seen as a joke, but the point is to degrade you are all times with inappropriate comments.
- Gossip: the bully that spreads rumours and fake stories about you.
The impact of bullying
The effects of bullying must be acknowledged and taken seriously. The consequences could include:
- Loss of opportunities.
- Being anxious at work and home.
- Losing trust in colleagues.
- Reduced self-confidence.
- Difficulty concentrating and sleeping.
- A degradation of mental health.
Such negative impacts can lead to illness and then absences from work. It may even start to impact on your relationships at home and lead you to develop a negative view of life in general.
What should you do about workplace bullies?
First, it is crucial not to get sucked into the excuses people make for bullies. There is never an excuse for behaviour that makes you feel bad. Therefore, you should:
- Remember it is not your fault, no matter what comments are thrown your way. You do not deserve to be made to feel bad at work.
- Document instances of bullying behaviour as they happen.
- Speak to your bully if you feel able. They may be receptive to changing behaviour once they know how it is impacting on you.
- Go to your superiors, which might have to be the person above your direct line manager.
- Go to human resources as your first port of call if you are being bullied. Be clear how it is affecting you.
- Seek help from an outside agency such as ACAS or your union. Such organisations offer arbitration services with people trained in mediation who can provide impartial advice and guidance. Seeking outside help can sometimes increase the intensity of problems in some cases, and you may want to try to resolve the issue within the workplace first.