How to handle workplace bullying
We all hope that when we go to work, we are working in a safe, comfortable and professional environment, and for most of us this is the case. Unfortunately though, it is reported that in the UK, approximately 1 in 3 of us have experienced workplace bullying of some kind, and it is also one of the biggest causes of people either leaving their job or even being fired because it has affected their performance. It is a difficult and uncomfortable position to be in, and identifying that you are being bullied, witnessing bullying or even bullying someone yourself is conflicting, let alone the challenge of then trying to work out how to deal with it. So how do we identify and tackle workplace bullying? Here we have laid out some advice and key pointers which might be able to help.
What can bullying in the workplace look like?
- Insulting, embarrassing or undermining someone alone or in front of others
- Setting someone up to fail by either withholding information from them, giving the wrong information, setting impossible deadlines or overloading someone with work
- Ignoring someone, or excluding someone out of both social or professional events/ projects
- Harming someone’s reputation both personally or professionally
- Spreading false information about someone
- Taking away someone’s working responsibilities without reason
- Threatening behaviour or physical or verbal abuse
- Discriminating against someone because of their gender, race, religious beliefs etc.
- Excessive micro managing or monitoring of someone’s work
- Constantly criticising or nit picking at someone’s work
- Humiliating someone
- Gaslighting and making someone second guess themselves
- Holding someone back from career progression or a promotion
What to do if you are being bullied at work:
- Look into your workplace’s bullying policy – every workplace should have a policy on bullying and harassment, including the companies stand on this, what to do and who you can speak with. If you don’t have access to this then do ask either your manager or HR department.
- If you can, then talk to the person informally - this can be a bit easier said than done, but if you do feel comfortable enough to have a conversation with someone and can explain to them that what they said or did was not ok and that it did hurt your feelings then do try to stop it in its tracks before it goes further. Obviously this is completely dependent on the situation and there will be circumstances where this approach is not appropriate or the right solution.
- Don’t let it fester and try to squash it as early on as you can – as with anything, the longer you leave it the worse it will get. Naturally it is really nerve wracking to both accept and also report that you are being bullied, as we do have this natural instinct that we will get in trouble or we don’t want to cause a fuss, but actually you will feel so much better for getting it off your chest and dealing with the situation as opposed to having it weighing you down every day.
- Review your job description and progression plans/appraisals – if you feel like something isn’t right with your workload or responsibilities then do check over your job description and your appraisals and make sure everything is as it should be. If it isn’t then do make note of this so you can provide evidence as to why you feel you are being treated unfairly with your work. Make sure you have also had all the necessary appraisals and catch ups you need and if not, ask to book one in so you can discuss your position, responsibilities and progression in more detail. This is also really important if you feel your performance is being hindered by bullying.
- Confide in someone who you trust and who also has the power to deal with it - this might be a manager, supervisor or HR. HR have a duty of care to employees and you can talk to them confidentially for advice and the conversation will not be taken further unless you decide to take it further. You can also seek advice from an employee representative, such as a trade union official.
- Document what you can – It’s really important to keep a note or examples of evidence of bullying, particularly if you decide to raise the case formerly. In order for a manager or investigating officer to ensure they can make take the most appropriate action, having evidence or witness statements really helps. There will obviously be occasions where you cannot provide evidence, but still keep a log off what happened and when to help you when you come to discussing or reporting the bullying.
- If the bullying continues raise a formal complaint – if the bullying hasn’t stopped or has gotten worse, you must stand up for yourself and take action as unfortunately you are the only person who can. Find out the best way to raise a formal complaint and who to address this to, you may also want to find out the full process of what happens after a formal complaint has been made – often there will be a period of fact finding and investigating and it is highly likely during this period this colleague and yourself will not be allowed to work with one another – this is very normal so don’t worry about this. Often your employer will ask for a formal letter expressing what has happened and when, and this is then followed up by a conversation with you to find out more, so try your best to be prepared for this. Remember no one can tell you how you feel so don’t be afraid to be open and honest.
- Take care of your wellbeing and mental health – Experiencing workplace bullying can really take its toll on your mental health and well-being and bring us down, so do be sure to take care of yourself, talking to someone you trust in particular can really help! Seek advice and support as soon as you can, and as hard as it is, try not to let it consume you – distract yourself with things you enjoy and that make you relax.
What to do if you witness workplace bullying:
- Speak confidentially to someone in power – You might not want to get involved or cause a fuss, but actually if you do witness something that isn’t right and you don’t say anything you are in effect allowing it to continue and therefore validating that person’s behaviour. It’s best to give someone the heads up who can help than leave it and allow it to turn into a more serious situation further down the line.
- Speak up – Sometimes we are in situations where a heated discussion might break out or someone might begin shouting or embarrassing someone in front of us and others and this is not ok. It might feel awkward but it is ok to speak up and try to defuse the situation – even if this is your boss! If you feel confident enough in the situation then don’t be afraid to step in and say ‘It’s clear that this situation has escalated and this doesn’t seem like the appropriate time or place so maybe we should all take a time out and reconvene when everyone has calmed down’ or even expressing that a situation is making you feel uncomfortable as others are probably feeling the same too.
- Take the person to one side – Depending on the situation you may want to take someone aside after witnessing their behaviour and discreetly mentioning that you think they could have handled that situation better/ that they didn’t come across in the best light etc. It’s surprising how blind people can be to their own behaviour when they become angry, upset or annoyed.
- Check in and see if that person is ok – If you do witness that someone is being bullied, do check in with them and ask if they are ok or if there is anything you might be able to do to help – maybe they don’t know who to turn to for help or where to get advice or maybe they just need someone who has been witness to the situation to help them come forward.
Avoiding Bullying and difficult relationships going forward:
- Ask questions about the workplace culture in an interview – Think about the questions you can ask in an interview to best get an understanding of what their workplace culture is like. How do they champion their values? What is the leadership team like? What does success look like and how is it celebrated? How do they continually monitor and improve their workplace culture?
- Don’t become involved in workplace gossip – Gossip can easily spread and is not helpful for anyone. Always assess the situation and be aware of your own interactions. If you have concerns, discuss them with someone who can actually help as oppose to venting them to a colleague. Try to change the topic of conversation if you feel it is becoming uncomfortable or unprofessional or take yourself away from the situation, and don’t be afraid to tell people who are trying to lure you into any gossip that it is not a discussion you want to have with them and that if they have any problems they should voice them to someone who can help.
- If you do raise a complaint against anyone remember to keep it private – Remember that if you do raise a complaint for bullying it is to be kept confidential, going around talking about how you have made a complaint about someone will not work in your favour. The most important people who can help you are already involved, and it also is unfair on the person who the complaint has been made about, so keep it to yourself and only discuss with those who are handling the complaint or someone you trust outside of work.
- Remember there is always the option to move on and try somewhere new! – Obviously no one should ever feel like they have to move out of a workplace to avoid being bullied especially if they love their job! Sometimes though, a fresh start in a new environment where you can thrive and be part of a better culture is the best option. Your workplace isn’t the be all and end all – there are some brilliant organisations out there who would love to have you!
We hope this helps to give some guidance and awareness around workplace bullying, if you are experience workplace bullying there are also a number of organisations who can help such as:
Please don’t suffer in silence, support, help and guidance is out there so do reach out to someone today.