Identifying and dealing with workplace bullying

bullying image (cropped)

When we enter into the big wide world of work, we often assume that certain behaviours and experiences from childhood have been left behind in the playground. Unfortunately, for some people, this is not the case. They may find themselves in an environment where bullying and harassment goes on because that culture is accepted as normal behaviour.

The behaviour may be excused under the guise of someone just having a strong personality, being unprofessional, having a very poor management style, or “having a laugh” - when in reality they are a bully.

Employers have a duty of care to their staff and are responsible for ensuring their staff works in a healthy environment.

A good employer:

  • recognises the difference between a robust style of management and a bully
  • knows that should someone feel bullied or harassed, telling them to toughen or lighten up isn’t the correct approach
  • has appropriate guidelines and policies in place to deal with bullying or harassment which are easily accessible

What is workplace bullying?

Bullying and harassment means any unwanted behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended. This could be face-to-face, in written communications or over the telephone. It is not always obvious or apparent to others.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says it can include the following:

  • Ignoring or excluding you
  • Giving you unachievable or meaningless tasks
  • Spreading malicious rumours or gossip
  • Making belittling remarks or making you look stupid in front of others
  • Withholding information deliberately
  • Constantly undervaluing a competent worker’s contribution
  • Harassment may include treating someone differently on the grounds of their race, sex, religion, disability or sexual orientation

What can I do?

The independent organisation Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) says it is always best to try and resolve the issue informally in the first instance. Sometimes a quick word is all it takes - and sometimes the person concerned may not even realise the effect their behaviour is having.

However, if this fails, there are a number of options to consider:

  • Discuss the problem with someone you feel comfortable with - a manager, someone in HR or a company counsellor
  • talk to your trade union or staff representative
  • keep a log of all incidents recording dates, times, specific details such as what was said and whether there were any witnesses
  • keep any relevant letters, emails, notes etc

If the issue cannot be resolved informally, you may want to consider following your company’s grievance procedure and make a formal complaint. Acas can offer mediation to try and help reach a resolution. Or you may wish to pursue legal action with specialist legal support.

Acas and HSE can offer practical support and guidance for both employees and employers on workplace bullying and harassment.

Visit the Acas website   
Read the HSE guidelines for individuals and employers

LionHeart can offer advice and support to past and present RICS members and their families if workplace bullying is impacting on your everyday life. To speak in confidence with one of our counsellors or support workers call 0845 6039057 or email In some cases we may be able to offer free legal advice.

AnnMarie McKeown is a counsellor based in Scotland for LionHeart.

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