How to Deal with Workplace Bullying

Bullying in the workplace has an insidious effect not only on the target of the bullying, but also on the organisation. Bullying creates an unhappy and toxic working environment where morale and productivity are low, and sickness absence rates are high, and this can only affect a company’s bottom line.

What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying comes in many different forms, whether it’s perpetrated by, or aimed at, a manager, supervisor, a co-worker, or anyone else in an organisation. Examples of workplace bullying include:

  • Insulting someone or intentionally embarrassing them
  • Spreading rumours
  • Excluding or ignoring people
  • Personal or professional criticism that is not warranted
  • Deliberately giving someone an unmanageable workload
  • Making someone do demeaning or pointless tasks
  • Threatening someone
  • Making unwanted sexual advances or sexual harassment
  • Deliberately passing someone over for a promotion or stopping them from developing in their role

It should be noted too that bullying doesn’t necessarily need to be face to face. If the insulting or threatening behaviour happens over email, phone, or text message, it’s still bullying.

The effects of bullying

Victims of bullying can experience stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and physical health problems which can all result in time off work. At work, they can find it hard to concentrate and be productive, and they may dread going into work at all.

When is a workplace bully not a bully?

The answer is never. Whether a workplace bully tries to pass bullying off as a misunderstanding, or they are allowed to act however they want because of their position within an organisation, it’s not acceptable.

The role of managers

Managers have an important role to play in tackling bullying in the workplace. They can:

  • Produce and enforce a comprehensive bullying and harassment policy
  • Make sure that any allegations of bullying and harassment are taken seriously and dealt with sensitively
  • Ensure that all employees are clear on the grievance procedure and what they can expect once an incident has been reported

Are you being bullied?

If you are the victim of workplace bullying, here’s what you can do:

Firstly, stay calm

This is easier said than done, but the best way to deal with bullying is to remain calm and professional, and to go through the proper channels to find a resolution.

Speak to the other person

Talk to the person who is bullying you and let them know how much their behaviour is affecting you. If you aren’t comfortable doing this alone, ask a trusted colleague to go with you. Some issues can be resolved informally.

Speak to your manager or HR

If you don’t feel like you can confront someone, talk to your manager, or if it’s your manager who is bullying you, speak to someone from HR. Explain how the bullying is affecting you and get advice and guidance on next steps.

Take things further if necessary

If you have gone through the appropriate channels and you don’t feel like you’re being taken seriously, start looking elsewhere for help and advice. ACAS and the Citizens Advice Bureau are a good place to start.


Maureen O’Callaghan is a Member of the Chartered Management Institute and has an MSc in Mindfulness-Based Approaches. She works with organisations, teams, and individuals to create less stressful working environments, improve team working, enhance performance and productivity and develop leadership and management skills.  For more information visit or e mail