Eyes on wellbeing

Bullying at work

As the number of calls to the AOP’s Peer Support Line related to bullying increases, OT  looks into how to handle the issue in the workplace

Animation of a woman with brown hair wearing a black jacket and a white top sitting at a laptop. On the left hand side someone is giving her a piece of paper and on the other side some is pointing their finger and waving a piece of paper at her.

In 2022, bullying entered the top five issues discussed on the AOP’s Peer Support Line (PSL) for the first time. Worryingly, bullying now makes up 10% of all calls received by PSL volunteers.

Here, OT outlines how you can identify when bullying is taking place at work, how to take proactive steps to deal with it, and when bullying might cross the line into discrimination.

How to recognise bullying at work

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) defines bullying as “unwanted behaviour from a person or group that is either offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting,” or “an abuse or misuse of power that undermines, humiliates, or causes physical or emotional harm to someone.”
The bullying could be regular or one-off, happen face-to-face or on channels such as social media or on the phone, and happen either at work or in non-work related situations, Acas goes on to say. The organisation adds that incidents do not have to be noticed by other people to be classed as bullying.

The NHS says that “Bullying is not always a case of someone picking on the weak. Sometimes a person’s strengths in the workplace can make the bully feel threatened, and that triggers their behaviour,” adding: “Bullying can make working life miserable. You can lose all faith in yourself, you can feel ill and depressed, and find it hard to motivate yourself to work.”

Examples could include a colleague putting you down, undermining your authority, or spreading rumours about you, or a manager giving you a heavier workload than other people, Acas says.

SupportLine adds constant criticism, shouting, intimidation and harassment, withholding of essential information, using offensive or threatening language, removal of responsibilities, wrongly placing blame and setting unrealistic standards as other potential examples of bullying in the workplace. 

How to deal with bullying

Mind advises looking into your workplace’s bullying policy initially, before trying to resolve the issue informally, possibly utilising a colleague who you trust to discuss the issue with the person you believe is bullying you. You should retain evidence of the bullying to support your accusations, as these will be required if you take the issue to HR or your manager. 

If you do not feel comfortable speaking to someone at work about the issue, Mind suggests seeking independent advice – possibly from visiting the Acas website, or calling the service’s helpline.
Likewise, the NHS advises staying calm, attempting to speak to the bully in case their behaviour is not deliberate, and keeping a diary to record incidents before progressing to a formal complaint.

If the situation does continue and you decide to raise a formal complaint about the individual or individuals you believe are bullying you, your workplace should have a policy that can guide you in how to do this.

The Acas website also has a large number of resources for those who might be experiencing bullying at work.

When bullying becomes discrimination

As seen in OT’s Time to Speak series, optometrists are often at risk from discrimination in the workplace – both from members of the public and from colleagues. 

Acas identifies when bullying might cross the line into discrimination. Via the organisation’s website, you can find answers on discrimination at work in general, as well as around disability, age and religion, and equal pay. The site also outlines how discrimination at work is covered by the Equality Act 2010.
The Acas site also has guidance for employers on what they should do if a bullying, discrimination or harassment complaint is received by an employee, including their duty of care responsibilities.