If you are bullied at work, you are not alone, writes Josephine
Hocking. One in four people suffer workplace bullying, a Manchester
University survey in 2000 found. Bullying is the fifth biggest
cause of stress at work (after workloads, change, cuts in staff and
long hours), according to a 2004 TUC survey.
Social care staff were the third largest group (after teachers
and health care staff) to call the UK national workplace bullying
advice line before it closed last year. Voluntary sector workers
were fourth largest.
An appeal court ruling last month, when an employee successfully
sued an NHS trust, should make it easier for staff to get
compensation for workplace bullying in future. This might make
employers tighten up on bullying, to stop cases ever getting to
The good news is there are practical steps you can take to beat
the bullies. The most important thing is to recognise and address
the problem early, before it gets out of hand.
What is bullying?
“Bullying tends to creep up on you. It’s not usually a violent
outburst but more likely snide comments that undermine and wear you
down. Often, people don’t identify it as bullying for a long time,”
says Matt Witheridge, operations manager at the Andrea Adams Trust,
campaigners on workplace bullying.
Conciliation service Acas says bullying includes spreading
malicious rumours, or insulting someone, particularly on the
grounds of race, sex, disability, sexual orientation, religion or
belief; ridiculing or demeaning someone; and making threats or
comments about job security without foundation.
What can I do?
Don’t hope the problem will go away because it probably won’t.
Speak up quickly before it escalates and you become
- Try talking to the bully informally, who may not even realise
he or she is causing offence. If that doesn’t work, go to your
manager (or the next person up if the bully is your manager). Or
try human resources, occupational health or your union.
- Find out if your employer has an anti-bullying policy.
- Try and be calm and objective or you may be unfairly seen as a
- Before taking out a grievance procedure pursue informal
Sue (not her real name) is a mental health social worker with 22
years’ experience. She left her job at a London borough after being
bullied. “I felt increasingly sidelined, belittled and crushed. My
clients suffered as I couldn’t represent them properly,” she
Despite a 100 per cent turnover of staff in her office in two
years, no one identified bullying as an issue. All her old
colleagues had already left and Sue got no support.
She feels it is particularly unethical to bully a mental health
social worker, who is “already exposed to high levels of
She now works for another London borough. Her old post remains
Keep a diary of bullying incidents including times, dates,
witnesses, what was said, and how you felt. Hold on to relevant
e-mails and letters. This will help you establish a pattern of
bullying behaviour and record frequency of incidents and is much
more useful when building a case than trying to remember what was
said over previous months and years.
Share what’s happening with family and friends and consider
counselling. Two useful websites are Bully Online at www.bullyonline.org and the
Andrea Adams Trust at www.andreaadamstrust.org.
The Andrea Adams Trust runs a bullying helpline on 01273 704900
(10am-4pm, Monday to Friday).
You can find a helpful leaflet by conciliation service Acas at