How to tackle bullying at work

While most people think bullying is confined to the school playground, sadly this is not the case. Every year, thousands of UK workers fall victim to bullying behaviour. This quickly takes its toll on their confidence and motivation. It can even, over time, make them feel depressed and ill.


It’s hard admitting that you’re being bullied to yourself, let alone to your manager. But given the seriousness of the potential effects, victims should take prompt action. For advice on how to deal with the situation, for yourself or on behalf of a colleague, please see our summary of a helpful article on the subject published by the NHS.


What is workplace bullying?

First up, you need to recognise what constitutes bullying behaviour. Bullying is defined as any behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended. It can involve full-scale arguments and physical menace. But it can also have a much more subtle, insidious shape. Excluding and ignoring people and their contributions, overloading them with work, picking on or regularly undermining them, and denying them training or promotion opportunities are all examples of bullying.


How to tackle bullying?

Once you recognise the signs, share your experience with someone you trust. If your colleagues, line manager or HR don’t know what’s happening, they can’t help.

You could talk to the bully before reaching out to someone else. In some cases, the bullying behaviour may not be deliberate. The perpetrator may have no idea of the effect their words or actions are having on you.

Remember that your bully’s criticism and/or personal remarks are not a reflection of your abilities but rather of their weaknesses and inadequacies. They are meant to intimidate and control you. So be polite but firm. Be clear that you find their behaviour unacceptable. Often, bullies retreat from people who stand up for themselves.

Record all incidents. Document the situation, the date, the nature of the bullying behaviour and your reaction. If things escalate, or the bullying continues despite your attempts to reason with the bully, this record will help to support your case when you take it to your manager and/or HR.

If you can’t solve the problem informally, you have no choice but to make a formal complaint. Follow your employer’s grievance procedure to do so. If the problem persists even after you’ve taken this step, you may need to consider legal action, which could mean going to an employment tribunal. Get professional advice before taking this step. Be mindful that you can’t have an employment tribunal on the grounds of bullying. But if the behaviour relates to a protected characteristic (e.g., sex, age, race, religion/beliefs, or sexual orientation) you may be able to claim discrimination under the harassment provisions.


ABL, your trusted recruitment partner, sincerely hopes that you never need the above advice. If you do, however, we hope that it’s helpful, and we wish you a speedy resolution of the issue. For further reading on the matter, please read a useful factsheet published by The Citizens Advice Bureau here.