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Workplace bullying - what is it and how can I prevent it?

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All organisations have a responsibility to create a culture of dignity and respect for their employees, with a main goal of removing bullying and harassment from the workplace altogether. Every single person has the right to feel comfortable and at ease at work.

Unfortunately, bullying is not just a thing that happens in a school playground, it happens across all ages and working environments. Bullying and harassment can be directed from a multitude of people, it could be your boss, your manager, your colleague, even a client you work with. But at the end of the day, no one should be bullied at work. If you feel like you're being bullied at work, our 'Am I being bullied at work?' blog will help you identify if you are a victim of bullying.

Bullying and harassment are very similar things, but the one clear difference between them is that harassment is illegal, but bullying is not. Harassment is when unwanted behaviour targets the protected characteristics from the Equality Act 2010. But just because bullying is not classed as illegal, this does not mean that it is acceptable, anyone caught bullying another staff member should be dealt with appropriately.

What is Bullying?

While bullying has no exact definition, bullying might be described as: "offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse of misuse of power that undermines, humiliates, denigrates or injures the recipient (emotionally or physically)"


The Anti Bullying Alliance defines bullying as "the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. It can happen face to face or online".

Examples of workplace bullying: 

  • Spreading rumours or insulting a colleague
  • Excluding an individual from group activities
  • Abusing positions of power
  • Preventing an employee from progressing at work
  • Criticising an employee without valid reasoning
  • Physically threatening abuse
  • Intimidation
  • Yelling or using profanity
  • Including lots more other examples...

Although bullying may not have an exact definition, it is important to remember that it is never acceptable. Just because bullying does not target the protected characteristics, this doesn't mean that bullies can continue to do whatever they want provided that they don't target the characteristics. 

The negative implications of bullying in the workplace include:

  • Bad relationships between colleagues
  • Driving down productivity
  • Hostility between colleagues
  • Losing staff
  • Lack of respect
  • Mental health risks (e.g. anxiety, lack of sleep, stress)
  • Lack of self-esteem

Workplace Bullying Statistics

A report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), using two surveys, one employees and the other surveyed HR professionals and decision-makers (employers), found that:

  • 24% of employees think their organisation turns a blind eye to workplace bullying
  • 15% experienced bullying in the last 3 years
  • 53% of the above did not report it 
  • Some reported suffering anxiety, stress, insomnia, heart palpitations and suicidal thoughts
  • 34% of employers (decision-makers) said one of the barriers to conflict management was the lack of confidence that managers have in challenging inappropriate behaviour 
  • 40% of those who were bullied/harassed said that their manager was responsible
  • 1 in 10 reports being harassed/bullied by social media, email, phone or text

Steps to prevent workplace bullying

There are various things that both employees and employers alike could do in order to prevent workplace bullying. By confronting bullying head-on and making a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying and harassment, you can work towards a bully-free workplace. 

There are various things that both employees and employers alike can do in order to prevent workplace bullying. By confronting bullying head-on and making zero-tolerance policies towards bullying and harassment, you can work towards a bully-free workplace. 

Recognise the signs of bullying

Make sure that staff know what constitutes as bullying so that regardless of whether they are being bullied, witnessing bullying or even repeating behaviour that someone else may feel bullied by, they know what bullying behaviour is. 

Keep an eye on those that could be victims of bullying

Unfortunately, there are some people that are more likely to be targets of bullies than others. You might notice that some people become withdrawn from a group or don't have many working relationships, so these may be the people you need to keep an eye on. 

Open door policy

As an employer you should want to encourage people to come forward if they are victim to or witness to bullying, having an open-door policy can work towards this.

Deal with complaints

Complaints should never be ignored and should be dealt with promptly. The longer that a complaint goes undealt with the more the victim may continue to be bullied and you may also set the precedence within your workplace that this sort of behaviour is tolerated. 

Provide regular feedback and focus on the job

Avoid negative comments about things unrelated to the job in hand. Make sure managers know how to provide constructive criticism without using negative personal comments. Ensure performance feedback is provided to assist employees in improving performance and is conducted in regular and formal meetings.  

Positive workplace culture and good working relationships

Workplace culture should make sure that all staff feel like they are valued the same and they should treat one another the same as they want to be treated. Make sure it is made clear what behaviour is permitted and what is not allowed.  

Training for all employees & employers

Bullying & Harassment Training allows employers, managers and employees to all have an equal understanding of what bullying and harassment are and what they should do if they are being bullied. Training also ensures that employers demonstrate that they do not tolerate this behaviour - alongside policies and procedures that should be implemented in your workplace.

Have a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying

Having a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying ensures that employees feel safe and have the confidence to be happy and work productively in their jobs. It also shows that all managers/supervisors/employees are on the same level and regardless of their position it will not be tolerated. 

Lead by example

Behaviour from employers or managers/supervisors needs to set an example for other employees, so people within positions of power should pave the way for acceptable behaviour. 

Bullying & Harassment Training

We offer Bullying and Harassment Training for both employees and managers/employers. Our Course for employees looks at the differences and similarities between bullying and harassment, what you should do if you are being bullied and how you can work together to create a positive workplace culture. Our Managers Course includes the definitions of bullying and harassment, how to tackle bullying in the workplace and how to prevent bullying from happening. 

Why not get started with a free, no-obligation trial today and prevent bullying from happening in your workplace?

Bullying & Harassment Training for Employees