What to do if you are being bullied at work

Anti-bullying Week 2016 runs 14 – 18 November.

In Is your workplace a bully-free zone? this week, we described tell-tale signs of bullying at work. If you suspect you are being bullied by one or more co-workers, it’s vital you don’t ignore it and let it carry on. The negative effects of bullying make for grim reading. Bullying can quickly destroy your self-confidence, cause stress and lead to serious physical and mental health issues. In the most extreme cases, workplace bullying can lead to suicide.

What you can do

You don't have to put up with being bullied. If you recognise any of the signs that you are being bullied, talk to someone you trust, get advice and find out about your rights at work. A useful practical step you can take is to start keeping a journal logging bullying incidents as they happen, setting out your best recollections of what happened, what was said when, who was there and so on. If bullying is by email or via a social media page like Facebook, print it off or take a screengrab.

You may choose to confront the bully yourself, but this is rarely easy. And it's probably only effective in its early stages. Often, the bully is a manager, so you need to get good, confidential advice on what to do. The following suggestions are drawn from the experiences of people who have suffered from bullying, and from union and voluntary sector advice.

Talk to someone

  • Talking to and getting advice from someone you feel you can trust can help overcome any feelings of isolation or helplessness.
  • Make an appointment with your GP to discuss any health effects (Also see our Dealing with Doctors section.)
  • If you are a union member, talk to your union rep in confidence. They know the correct procedures, and can help you deal with the problem, either formally or informally.
  • Contact a voluntary organisation or helpline. Bullying UK, for example, provides confidential advice and support on bullying (tel: 0808 800 2222).

Find out what support your employer can offer

Employers have a clear legal duty to tackle workplace bullying, harassment and intimidation, whether by supervisors, managers, fellow workers, or the public. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says that organisations should actively promote a culture in which bullying and harassment are not tolerated.

  • Get a copy of your employer's bullying and harassment or grievance procedure (you may find it in the staff handbook). 
  • Some employers nominate 'harassment advisers'. These fellow workers support and provide confidential advice to victims of bullying.
  • Use an employee helpline. Some employers and unions operate free, confidential advice lines.

If your employer does not have a procedure to deal with bullying, they really should. The HSE has more information for organisations on bullying and harassment.

Take action

  • If you decide to talk to the bully directly, first go over what you want to say with someone else who understands what you are going through. Have a clear idea what you hope and expect to happen. Tell the bully you find their behaviour unacceptable and describe its effects on you. Make a note of this meeting, who said what and the outcome. If this informal approach doesn't work, it may be time to make use of more formal options.
  • Make an official complaint to your employer. Prepare your case well and follow any necessary procedures that HR have put in place to address harassment and bullying. 
  • Use your right to be accompanied at any meetings with management on bullying. Take a companion of your choice (it could be a fellow worker, union rep or someone outside the organisation).

Whatever steps you decide to take, remember you have the right to work in a safe environment. This includes not being harassed or bullied by anyone, ever, for any reason. This week, make the decision not to suffer in silence any longer.


Further information

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