Is your workplace a bully-free zone?

Anti-Bullying Week 2016 runs 14 – 18 November. 

In this day and age, how much should we really be concerned about bullying at work? Very, according to a 2014 TUC survey of union health and safety reps, where bullying was cited by 46% of reps and ranked as the second biggest workplace safety issue, second only to stress.

What exactly is bullying?

The independent Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) defines bullying as "offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, involving an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient."

Let’s break that down a bit.

Bullying or banter?

You may be exposed to physical violence and intimidation  at work, particularly if you work in frontline services with members of the public. But bullying by co-workers more commonly revolves around what’s said – and not said. This includes:

  • spreading malicious rumours or gossip;
  • humiliating someone in public; and
  • ignoring or excluding someone.

If you are being made fun of on a routine basis, this is a sign you are being bullied, and this should not be passed off as harmless ‘banter’. It isn’t necessarily verbal either. Just as the Internet has become central to the way we communicate at work, the problem of cyberbullying has become increasingly prevalent. (More on cyberbullying here.) 

Abuse of power

Bullies are often (but not always) more senior than the person they are bullying. Bullies abuse their power over their staff, and often in subtle ways. Your boss may have unrealistically high expectations of you and if they demand more than is reasonable in an aggressive way that can easily tip over into bullying. He or she could also bully you by:  

  • giving you unachievable or meaningless tasks;
  • constantly undervaluing your work performance; and
  • being aggressive, sarcastic or malicious towards you.

Bullies flourish in organisations that fail to distinguish between 'managing' and 'bullying', where there is a macho culture and where there is no effective procedure to tackle bullying. It can happen in large and small organisations alike, and in the caring professions. Bullies thrive where there is a climate of job insecurity.

If any of this sounds depressingly familiar, find out here what you can do to tackle bullying at work. [link to other blog]

Further information

Comprehensive FAQs on how to recognise, address and cope with bullying at work

Also see: More than 1 in 3 British workers bullied (blog)