Bullying and harassment is not just reserved for the school playground, but it can also be very real in the world of work. The 2017 NHS staff survey showed that 24% of all NHS staff have reported that they have experienced some form of bullying. Other research has shown that just under 30% of all NHS staff have experienced some psychological stress because of bullying. Management may be more likely to bully than colleagues, women are more likely to be bullied than men, particularly if they are single or divorced, and LBGT people may also experience more. People who are under stress due to bullying are more likely to take sick days.
The Equality Act 2010 declares bullying and harassment that makes someone feel intimidated or offended is unlawful. It suggests that bullying behaviour can include:
- Denying someone training or promotion opportunities
- Ignoring someone, or refusing to talk to them
- Spreading rumours about someone
- Treating someone unfairly
- Picking on someone or undermining them, either alone or in front of others
- Expecting someone to do too much work
Harassment is defined as unwanted conduct that affects the dignity of men and women in their place of work. Harassment is demeaning actions or comments on disability, religion, nationality, personal characteristics, gender, age or sexual orientation.
People who are being bullied can experience feelings of misery, loss of confidence, feeling ill and depressed. They can find themselves lacking motivation to do their work and try to avoid the person who is bullying them. However this is not always possible.
People who are being picked on are not weak. Often the person who is doing the bullying is concerned that the person they are being rude to, is better than them at their job and are envied for their strengths and what they can do. Their reaction is to undermine that person at every opportunity.
How should you deal with a workplace bully? Many people’s response is to ignore the problem and hope it will go away, but if a person is really determined to make your life a misery at work, then this strategy may fail. Here are some suggestions to help with a workplace bullying situation:
- Find someone to confide in. It would be best if your ally is someone in the workplace, as they are in a position to witness the bullying. You may also find that you are not the only one being bullied
- Keep a diary of times and places where you have been bullied. This might be helpful if you decide to take it further
- Get advice. Find somewhere to get informal advice on the situation. This might include someone from the trade union or someone in the human resources department. A manager or supervisor, providing they are not part of the problem, may also help. There is also an ACAS helpline, which can help. You can also talk to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.
- Visit your GP if the bullying is affecting your health
- Recognise that being bullied is not a reflection on you or your abilities. This person might be trying to intimidate and control you because of their own weaknesses. Stay calm.
- Talk to the bully if you are able to. It is possible that they do not know how their behaviour has affected you. Explain what has been happening and your objection to it. Be polite and calm, asking them to explain their behaviour towards you. Work out what to say before you approach them.
- If talking to them does not resolve the problem, then take it higher and make a formal complaint. Follow the firm’s guidelines on this. The guidelines may include initially taking up the problem with the person involved.
- If the problem continues, then you may have to take legal advice and consider legal action against the person involved.
Employers are considered responsible for preventing bullying and harassment in the workplace and are considered liable for harassment suffered by their employees.
The anti-bullying awareness week takes place every year during the second week of November.