Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace

Being subjected to bullying and harassment at work can have a devastating impact on your mental and physical health.

This resources draws upon the accounts of people who have been in contact with us about their own experiences. We hope this will raise awareness of workplace bullying and organisations that provide support to those affected.

What is Bullying and Harassment?

Bullying UK defines workplace bullying as ‘A form of abusive behaviour where an individual or a group of people, create an intimidating or humiliating work environment for another. This is with the purpose of harming their dignity, safety and well-being. This can make those subjected to it anxious, depressed and it might affect their family life too’.

Bullying isn’t against the law, but if a colleague or manager is behaving in an intimidating or offensive way, it could be harassment which is illegal under the Equality Act 2010 if the behaviour is related to a protected characteristic.

Citizens Advice UK describe harassment as unwanted behaviour, which you find offensive or which makes you feel intimidated or humiliated. It can happen on its own or alongside other forms of discrimination.

Bullying in the workplace can occur on multiple platforms. For example, people may experience verbal or physical bullying as well as incidents of bullying online or through social media.

What are the Signs of Workplace Bullying & Harassment?

Some examples of workplace bullying could include:

  • Feeling constantly criticised
  • Having duties and responsibility taken away without good reason
  • Being continuously put down
  • Being made to feel like the butt of the jokes
  • Being regularly excluded.
  • Misuse of power or position to make someone feel uncomfortable or victimised, or blocking of promotion in the workplace

People could also experience various forms of harassment. For instance, ACAS explain that sexual harassment could be:

  • Touching someone against their will (e.g. hugging)
  • Flirting
  • Gesturing or making sexual remarks about someone’s body, clothing or appearance

The Impact of Bullying at Work

For the person subjected to bullying, the impact on their mental and physical health is likely to be devastating. The people we have spoken to had been subjected to bullying and harassment in the workplace for a number of years. They described feeling suicidal and isolated. Some individuals have now received a diagnosis for PTSD as a result of the harm they have been subjected too.

There may also be physical signs if someone is being subjected to bullying at work. For example:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Hair falling out
  • Becoming withdrawn
  • Anxiety and depression from the stress and loneliness experienced from bullying

How to Respond to Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace

If you can, talk to the person in question. Describe what’s been happening and why you object to it. Stay calm and be polite. They may not realise how their behaviour is affecting you. If you do not want to talk to them yourself, ask someone else to do it for you.

If you have noticed a colleague is being bullied, it is important you act. You could ask the person you are concerned about how they are. If they disclose, it is important that you listen to them. Often the bullying denies their behaviour and this victim can be ignored.  You might want to raise your concerns with your line manager if appropriate or support your colleague to access support with HR or an organisation such as Bully UK or Citizens Advice Service.

If you or someone you know is experiencing bullying at work, it is important to keep a diary of all incidents. Include times, dates, witnesses and what happened. This will help if they decide to take this further.

Does your workplace have a bullying policy? If so, follow the guidance within the policy to report your concerns. Alternatively, you could speak to your manager or HR.

If you are a member of a trade union, you could get in touch with them and ask them for advice and representation. If you have house insurance, then you may be covered for legal expenses too, it is worth checking this.

There is also lots of information available online to offer support. Bullying UK have created a workplace bullying resources for tips and advice. If you are experiencing any form of bullying, you can call their helpline on 0808 808 2222, email them at askus@familylives.org.uk or talk to them online.

Advice to those Subjected to Bullying and Harassment

The people we have spoken to us wanted to share their advice to others who may be experiencing bullying at work.

  • If it is one person initiating the bullying, try to keep other people around you.
  • If you do not feel you are being heard or listened to and the bullying continues, seek immediate support from services that do listen and are empathetic.
  • Make small notes to yourself about how to cope with this person. Notes could include phrases such as; show no emotion, short responses, minimal interaction and no contact.

Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility and everyone can play a part in contributing to a safer culture in the workplace. Everyone deserves to live a life free from harm and abuse.


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