Office bullying is something that many workplaces struggle to come to terms with to tackle appropriately and it can be horrendous for the staff members involved, as work is such a large part of people’s lives and being miserable there is not good for their mental health. Many people who have been targeted by bullies at work have gone on to suffer from self doubt, impostor syndrome or depression, which has affected their mental health and prevented them from being able to do their job to the required standard.
According to Smart Pension, one-in-ten people have witnessed workplace bullying while a huge 37% have direct experience of being bullied themselves. Around two-thirds said that the bullying had been of a subtler kind such as deliberately leaving someone out whereas one in 20 people had seen workplace violence flaring between colleagues.
There is a definite perception that bullying is something that is far more likely to happen during our school years but this isn’t actually something that reflects the reality. Many people are unable to leave their bullying days behind them at school and seek to perpetuate them in a working environment as well.
One of the most difficult factors in workplace bullying is that the bully isn’t necessarily going to be someone who is on your own level, it is entirely possible that they may be your boss, which makes it a much more difficult and fraught situation.
Types of Office Bullying
Bullying in the workplace comes in different forms and some of these are easier to recognise and deal with than others. We have included some of the ways people get bullied in the office below:
Being called abusive names can be an extremely upsetting and unsettling experience. Most of the people who use this say that it is only banter, but if it doesn’t feel like banter to you then it is bullying. If they target you for something that is considered to be a “protected characteristic” then that is an especially serious disciplinary matter and can constitute harassment, which can also be a criminal offence.
Ignoring, Isolating or Excluding
“They wouldn’t let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games”. It’s a song lyric but it describes exactly the kind of isolating and excluding behaviour that characterises a great swathe of bullying in an office environment. There are often several people involved, to the detriment of another.
If someone is encouraged to take part in a discussion just so that their suggestion can be attacked and they can be ridiculed, this is also a form of bullying. Making someone feel small and that they don’t have anything positive to contribute is a really insipid, insidious form of bullying that can really cause problems for its victims.
This can be one of the most hurtful ways of bullying someone. Spreading untrue and shocking “revelations” about a colleague is unacceptable and it doesn’t matter whether you believe them to be true or not, it shouldn’t be done and is classified as a form of bullying.
Assigning Meaningless Tasks
If someone is routinely assigned meaningless tasks, this is an abuse of their labour and can potentially get them into trouble with management for not doing things that are more productive and that benefit the team far more.
Being assigned “low value” tasks like making tea and coffee for colleagues of a similar level can be seen as not giving someone the appropriate level of respect. This can also be a way of taking them away from more important work tasks that they should be doing and can hurt their chances for advancement at work.
There are many different forms of aggressive behaviour in the workplace and these can range from intimidatory actions like standing too close to someone while admonishing them about something they have done, to full on shouting and physical assault. None of these actions should be tolerated or ignored in the workplace and all of them should be considered serious enough to warrant disciplinary action.
Next Steps for Those who Feel They are Being Bullied
It is perfectly understandable to have some trepidation when thinking about how to tackle such a serious problem. If you are unsure whether you are being bullied, you can talk to some of your work friends and there are also some good questions that Advisory, Conciliatory and Arbitration Service (ACAS) poses on the subject that can help you to decide. If you answer no to any of the questions below, it is very likely that you are facing bullying.
- Has there been a change of management or organisational style to which you just need time to adjust – perhaps because you have a new manager or work requirements?
- Is there an organisational statement of standards of behaviour that you can consult?
- Can you talk over your worries with your personnel manager, your line manager/supervisor, union representative or colleagues, who you may find share your concerns?
- Can you agree changes to workload or ways of working that will make it easier for you to cope?
Strategies to Deal with Bullying
Try to ensure that you have evidence of the office bullying that has happened and the date it happened. A good way of doing this is to send yourself an email every time there is an incident, detailing what happened and who was involved.
These notes are of value when it comes to a disciplinary process as they will prove a pattern in a way that just verbally mentioning later doesn’t. They are viewed as “contemporaneous notes”, or notes from the time period concerned, so are treated more like a witness statement.
Talk to your line manager if you are able, or if you can’t do that, raise the matter with the Human Resources Department, if there is one at your organisation. You shouldn’t have to endure bullying in the workplace and while you shouldn’t have to consider quitting your job to escape bullies, it may be a chance to consider refreshing your career and making a positive career change.