Five powerful ways to tackle bullying in the workplace

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New research out today shows that six in 10 people have witnessed bullying or suffered it themselves at work.

Shouting, shoving, intimidation and threatening behaviour were all reported by 2,000 working men and women in Britain, in the study by employment law specialists Slater and Gordon.

But while most people had witnessed or believed they had faced bullying in the workplace, less than half (48 percent) did anything about it. 

HR consultant

With over 16 years' experience working for some of the UK’s top employment law firms, HR expert Laura Milne is well-versed in the language of workplace bullying, at the helm of Lime HR

“We’ve all been there – chances are if you’ve ever had a job then you’ve experienced someone along the way who has treated unfairly. Someone who has tried to intimidate, harass or bully you," Laura says.

“Sadly it’s key to career success and, of course, general emotional peace of mind, to learn the skills of how to manage such an experience in a way that’s healthy and productive.”

Here she speaks to about the most effective ways of tackling office bullying - before it gets the better of you:

1. Find out if the treatment you're receiving constitutes bullying


First things first – establish what IS bullying? Sometimes the way someone behaves towards us might seem a little insidious. But we might be unsure if a particular comment or behaviour constitutes harassment or bullying.

In essence, however, ACAS; the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration service, provides the guidelines by which all UK employees and employers should abide. ACAS tells us that we all have the right to be treated fairly and with dignity and respect. If someone you work with treats you in a way that is offensive, intimidating, insulting, or, they abuse their position of power over you or humiliate you then these are all examples of bullying.

2. Have an informal chat to begin with


Easier said than done perhaps, but if someone treats you in a way that damages your self-esteem then it's useful to have an informal, non-confrontational discussion in a neutral location. Try saying something like this;

“When you say [blah] / do [blah] it makes me feel uncomfortable, I feel like I am being attacked.”

Afterwards it’s important to document the discussion by email and keep a copy somewhere safe and confidential.

This might be a tricky thing to do but it's true that most bullies back down when confronted in a calm and self-assured manner.

3. Avoid appeasing the bully


Never try to appease the mood of a bully by playing into their behaviour.

Let the bully know by your behaviour that you will not accept their treatment of you. That doesn’t necessarily mean getting aggressive or confrontational. Be calm and self-assured.

I once had a boss who would make inappropriate comments about my physical appearance. Every time he made such a comment I would reply simply and calmly (sometimes not even looking up from my work); “Not appropriate Paul, not appropriate.”

4. Paper Trail

paper trail

This one is key! Document – document – document…

Every inappropriate or aggressively-toned email should be kept.

Every inappropriate conversation should be typed up in a notebook, with witnesses and names documented, and the date and time of the conversation annotated.

Same goes for the work you do well – keep that glowing testimonial from the client. Keep copies and details of accounts and sales targets met. You never know when you may need to refer to them to protect yourself.

5. The legal route


“The first stop on a legal route is to raise a written grievance. Check your Staff Handbook or the ACAS website for further guidance but write a clear and concise diary of events of what happened and when.

Take the grievance to your HR department – an employer should investigate and provide a written decision within 28-days.

If all else fails, then a claim should be brought within the Employment Tribunals within three months of the date of the first act.

In today's study more than a quarter witnessed colleagues being deliberately humiliated by a bully while one in ten had heard racist insults. One in six saw a co-worker subjected to inappropriate sexual remarks. Childish pranks were seen by 24% of those surveyed while one in 15 saw their colleague’s work being sabotaged. 

One in 20 people said they had witnessed physical violence between workmates. 

The bullying was disguised as ‘workplace banter’ in 56% of cases while 68% said the behaviour was ‘subtle’, such as leaving a colleague out of work drinks, lunches and meetings. 

Over half (52%) said they did nothing to stop the bullying with a third admitting they felt too awkward to say anything. A quarter thought bullying was just part of the culture of where they worked. 

As many as 20% said they feared becoming the target of the bully themselves if they spoke out and one in ten thought they could lose their job if they complained. A quarter said they didn’t think it was their responsibility to do anything about it.

“A bully's behaviour is never truly about you," says Laura, “Never be a victim and never let another’s opinion of you define who you are. Only you can define who you are.” 

For more info on what constitutes bullying in the workplace and what you can do to tackle it check out

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Stylist Team