Anti Bullying Week

Workplace bullying

Bullying can have a detrimental effect on a persons mental health and wellbeing but bullying can come in many different forms and does not only occur in schools and younger people.

What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying is more than someone being bossy and occasionally having an angry outburst about work targets. It is when someone persistently acts towards you in a way that hurts, criticises or victimises you. They can be quite obvious – shouting or swearing or humiliating you in front of colleagues; or more underhand – constantly criticising you, isolating you from colleagues, spreading malicious rumours about you or blaming you whenever things go wrong.

Bullying can often:

  • undermine your ability, causing you to lose your self-confidence and self-esteem
  • intimidate you in a way that makes you feel very vulnerable, alone,angry and powerless
  • cause you stress
  • lead to anxiety and/or depression.

What can I do if I’m being bullied?

If you are being bullied, you have three choices: putting up with it; standing firm and taking action; or leaving your job. Putting up with it is likely to be damaging in the long term, but the alternatives may also be a challenge.

Taking action

Taking action usually means speaking out, but not necessarily confronting the bully directly. It may seem the right thing to do, but how confident you feel about doing it may depend on whether you think your employer and colleagues will support you.

  • Seek advice and support from your human resources department, your health and safety or welfare officers, or your union representative, if you have one. You might also find it helpful to contact ACAS.
  • Find out if your employer has a policy on bullying and harassment, and what their grievance procedure is.
  • Seek support from friends and colleagues, as well as from those in authority. But be aware that people may be nervous of providing support in case they end up being targeted by the bully too.
  • Avoid situations where you are alone with the bully.
  • Record what is happening to you and keep relevant documents in case you should need them for any formal complaints procedures.

Protecting your mental health

Because the effect of bullying is often to damage your self-esteem and self-confidence, it is important to get help in dealing with this.

Learning some basic self-assertiveness skills can help you to feel better about yourself. It can help you to deal with awkward situations that may arise and any anger you may be feeling (see How to deal with anger). Your employer may offer assertiveness training – or look for classes on the internet or at your library.

You may wish to try counselling. It can help to have someone objective to talk to, who has the time to listen to how you are feeling, with no distractions. A counsellor will not offer you advice on what to do, but explore how you are feeling and suggest ways to cope better with difficult situations. Counselling can often be accessed through your GP, privately, or through a voluntary organisation. Some workplaces offer counselling, either in-house or by referral to an employee assistance programme (EAP). (See Talking treatments.)

Leaving your job

You may decide that leaving your job is the best option for your mental health. If so, you don’t have to see this as defeat, but as a positive decision, taken to keep yourself well and because things are stacked against you. If you tell your employer why you are leaving, this may help you feel more in control and may help others in the future.