Bullying at work

February, 2015

To be bullied is to be belittled by another person.

It can be very subtle, or very obvious, but it is likely to be persistent.  Bullying at work often happens when someone abuses a position of authority.  To be put down in this way can occur in any situation where one person is dependent on another, financially, socially or managerially.

Bullying happens for all sorts of reasons.  Generally a bully is someone who is insecure or fearful within themselves and spots similar characteristics in another person.  They might then make that person their victim.  Bullies often seem to believe that this gives them more status in the eyes of others, such as their colleagues or friends, or else it simply serves to mask their own fear and insecurity, which they are desperate to keep covered up. Of course, even if we understand the reasons for the behaviour, it is still unacceptable.

Bullying takes many forms.  The behaviour may include:-

  • shouting and being abusive
  • undermining confidence
  • humiliation and ridicule
  • excessive supervision and constant criticism over little things

It may at times be difficult to differentiate between firm management and bullying, but the following pointers may make a bullying style easier to identify.  If someone else is:-

  • reducing your areas of responsibility without good reason
  • setting impossible objectives or moving goal posts
  • refusing to give you the managerial time and attention your role requires
  • withholding information, ostracising or marginalising you
  • spreading malicious rumours
  • refusing requests for leave and training without good reason

 You might be affected by bullying in ways which do not seem to have any direct bearing on the problem:- 

  • finding yourself unwilling to go to work
  • feeling fearful and regularly put down or attacked
  • feeling sick and tearful while at work
  • trying to avoid certain people and situations
  • being short-tempered with colleagues

If you find yourself confused about what is going on, you may need another person’s perspective.  Seek the support of a sympathetic colleague, or go and see a counsellor. Sharing your experience with someone else may help you check out your understanding of what is going on. Ideally this support will reduce your anxiety or fear and may help you  confront what is happening to you. 

What you can do about it

  • You might choose to speak to the bully face to face, letting them know how their behaviour is affecting you and asking them to stop.
  • You might choose to log all the instances, so that you have documented all the bullying behaviour
  • You might choose to report the behaviour to a senior person and ask for help in deciding what to do next.
  • You might choose to enlist the support of others who are being, or have been, bullied by the same person.
  • You might choose to seek help elsewhere, eg from the HR department, or a Union
  • You could opt to leave the situation.