Sadly, bullying isn’t something that stops when you leave the playground. Bullying in the workplace is surprisingly common and it can take many forms. Sometimes bullying is clear, such as when someone shows aggressive or intimidating behaviour or when a person is picked on or unacceptably criticised.

Sometimes bullying behaviour is more subtle, and can be dismissed as ‘banter’. Or there are behaviours or actions that some don’t consider bullying, such as ignoring a person’s contributions or removing responsibilities.

There is no legal definition of bullying, but ACAS* defines workplace bullying as, “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the person being bullied.”

The scope of workplace bullying

Research into workplace bullying reveals that almost one third (29%) of people are bullied at work. And women are more likely to be victims of workplace bullying than men (34% of women, compared to 23% of men)1.

Workplace bullying is a concern for employers too. In a 2018 annual survey conducted by the TUC**, 45% of health and safety representatives identified bullying as a main concern, only falling second to stress2.

Workplace bullying and wellbeing

Bullying can affect many aspects of an individual’s wellbeing. Experiencing bullying at work can be incredibly upsetting, but victims can also experience a lack of motivation, and become disengaged or withdrawn from their work. This can have negative impacts on performance, for the individual and the business.

Aside from this, bullying is linked to poor mental health. Stress, depression and anxiety can all result from experiencing bullying at work. And mental ill health is a top-three cause of long-term absence of almost three-fifths (59%) of organisations3.

Tackling workplace bullying

With this in mind, it’s critical for employers to prevent bullying in the workplace, and have appropriate measures in place to help tackle workplace bullying when it does happen:

  • Anti-bullying policy: It’s important for employers to develop and enforce a formal anti-bullying policy. This should provide examples of unacceptable behaviour, outline disciplinary procedures, and what employees can do if they are experiencing bullying at work.
  • Lead by example: Leaders and managers should be up to speed with any anti-bullying policies or measures you have in place. They should also set a good example to their teams, through their own behaviour.
  • Act efficiently: There should be consistent procedures in place to make sure that all workplace bullying complaints are taken seriously and dealt with promptly and efficiently.
  • Additional support: Ensure that you have additional support in place for employees to access. This might be in the form of an employee assistance programme, or signposting to external agencies such as ACAS or Citizens Advice.
  • Promote inclusion: Organise company events and activities, or social interest groups that encourage interaction and inclusion. Allowing employees to connect in a social setting can help build and strengthen relationships.

If you’re experiencing bullying at work

  • If you feel you can, try speaking to the person in private. Explain how their behaviour is making you feel and try to resolve it informally. Sometimes a person might not recognise that their actions or words are harmful.
  • Keep a record of any interactions or evidence. This can be helpful to refer back to if the problem persists and you decide to make a complaint against someone.
  • Talk to someone you trust; a colleague, your line manager, or someone from your HR team. The first step to tackling bullying can often be to share the problem with someone else.
  • If the bullying continues, you can raise a formal complaint following your company’s grievance procedure.

Every individual deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. And everyone deserves to feel comfortable and safe in their workplace, so they can perform at their best. Employers can play their part by creating an inclusive culture, to prevent and tackle workplace bullying head on.

We've created some helpful resources to raise awareness of workplace bullying, that employers can use on World Mental Health Day and beyond.


1. https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/nearly-third-people-are-bullied-work-says-tuc

2. https://www.tuc.org.uk/resource/bullying-work

3. CIPD/Simplyhealth Health and Well-being at Work 2019 report

*Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service

**Trades Union Congress

Simplyhealth Team

Simplyhealth Team

Simplyhealth helps companies, and their talent, perform well.

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