Tackling bullying in the workplace

Senior guidance adviser at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, Tom Neil (pictured), talks to OT  about what forms bullying can take and why it needs to be addressed

Tom Neil

What can bullying look like in the workplace?

Bullying and harassment means any unwanted behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended. It is not necessarily always obvious or apparent to others and may happen in the workplace without an employer's awareness.

Bullying or harassment can be between two individuals or it may involve groups of people. It might be obvious or it might be insidious. It may be persistent or an isolated incident. While it often occurs face-to-face, it can also occur in written communications, by phone, via email or on social media.

What can an employee do if they are being bullied in the workplace?

If you are being bullied it is important you do not let it continue. If you feel able to, it can be best to try to resolve it informally by raising it with the individual themselves. Often a quiet word can be all it takes to make the unwanted behaviour stop. Alternatively, you could raise the matter with your manager who should then seek to resolve it for you.

Bullying and harassment create an unhappy and unproductive workplace


If the informal option is not appropriate or does not stop the bullying then you could seek to take it further by raising a formal complaint, sometimes called a grievance. To help your employer understand , and establish the facts of the matter it can help if you keep a diary of all incidents and keep any relevant letter, emails, notes etc.

Making a complaint about bullying can be a stressful experience. You should therefore consider talking to someone privately about the matter, such as your manager, someone else at the organisation who you feel comfortable with, perhaps someone in human resources or company counsellor or your trade union or staff representative.

What should an employer do to prevent bullying in the workplace?

There are a number of key considerations that should help to prevent bullying in the workplace. A good first step is to develop and implement a formal policy. This can be kept simple, but employers should try to involve staff in its creation. It could include an organisational statement about taking all allegations seriously, the standards of behaviour the organisation expects from all their staff and how the organisation will approach any allegations of bullying or harassment.

An employer should endeavour to ensure that staff are aware of the policy and the organisations position on bullying in their workplace.

It’s also important to set good examples in the workplace, so anyone with management responsibility should be demonstrating the standards of behaviour expected from the rest of the workforce.

Why is it important to stop bullying in the workplace?

Bullying and harassment create an unhappy and unproductive workplace. If not taken seriously and handled carefully it can quickly affect morale, performance and productivity. Staff will lose faith in management and it could lead to higher absence levels and resignations. Ultimately it could even result in tribunal or other court proceedings.

If you would like to find out how you can learn how to better deal with these issues you can visit the visit the Acas website.