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About Bullying

Updated by Tim Field Foundation

"...A major barrier to organizational efficiency and

productivity and a major cost to organizations and to
economies as a whole." - Clive R Boddy
Definitions of bullying:
What's the difference between bullying, harassment and assault?
Where are people bullied?
What is Workplace Bullying?
How does it happen in a civilised environment?
Who is behind workplace bullying?
What triggers bullying?
What does bullying do to health?
What happens when someone complains about bullying?
What a bully might say when held to account
Am I Being Bullied?
What can I do if I'm being bullied?
What can you do if one of your employees is accused of bullying?

Definitions of bullying:
Persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating or insulting behaviour, abuse of power, or
unfair punishment which upsets, threatens and/or humiliates the recipient(s), undermining
their self-confidence, reputation and ability to perform. Derived from "Bullying at work: how to
tackle it. A guide for MSF representatives and members: MSF 1995

When considering the reasonableness of the conduct in question, the perpetrator can be
expected to give an innocent reason for their actions. However, their claimed intention does
not define the reasonableness of their conduct: The prime consideration must be the effect of
the conduct on the recipient.
Context is everything. The persistence, the pattern and the effect of incidents which are, in
isolation, trivial, creates the context in which those incidents can be regarded as bullying.
Examples of the sort of incidents and the patterns are given below.
Workplace bullying is commonly sustained by denial, ignorance and indifference, often in
a climate of fear, with a common result being the premature departure of the target and
reward for the perpetrator. Tim Field
Making a complaint or holding someone to account for substandard conduct, so long as it is
done fairly and reasonably in good faith, is not bullying.
Others have given differently worded definitions, which essentially mean the same thing:

Rayner and Hoel provide five categories of bullying behaviour. These are threat to
professional status (for example, belittling opinion, public professional humiliation,
accusation of lack of effort); threat to personal standing (for example, name calling,
insults, teasing); isolation (for example, preventing access to opportunities such as
training, withholding information); overwork (for example, undue pressure to produce
work, impossible deadlines, unnecessary disruptions); and destabilisation (for example,
failure to give credit when due, meaningless tasks, removal of responsibility, shifting of
goal posts).
Source: Workplace bullying in NHS community trust: staff questionnaire survey, Lyn Quine, reader in health

Workplace bullying is defined as the repeated unethical and unfavorable treatment of one
person by another in the workplace. This includes behavior designed to belittle others via
humiliation, sarcasm, rudeness, overworking an employee, threats, and violence. Constance
Dierickx, Ph.D

What's the difference between bullying, harassment and

Bullying differs from harassment and assault in that the latter can result from a small number
of fairly serious incidents - which everybody recognises as harassment or assault - whereas
bullying tends to be an accumulation of many small incidents over a long period of time. Each
incident tends to be trivial, and on its own and out of context does not constitute an offence or
grounds for disciplinary or grievance action.

Where are people bullied?

in long term jobs, by managers, co-workers or subordinates, or by clients (bullying,

workplace bullying, mobbing, work abuse, harassment, discrimination)
in short term jobs such as the performing arts, agriculture or construction, where the
engager, gangmaster or supervisor has complete power over workers.(bullying,
harassment, discrimination, assault)
in the armed forces, religious organisations and the media by "untouchable" characters
(bullying, harassment, discrimination, assault, rape)
at home by partner, parent, uncle, sibling (bullying, assault, domestic violence, abuse,
verbal abuse, rape)
at home by landlords, their agents, debt collectors (bullying, harassment)
at home by neighbours (bullying, harassment)
at school (bullying, harassment, assault)
in hospitals, convalescent homes, care homes, residential homes (bullying,
harassment, assault)
in public by strangers (harassment, stalking, assault, sexual assault, rape, grievous
bodily harm, murder)

This is not an exhaustive list and does not include activities readily identifiable as criminal.

What is Workplace Bullying?

The purpose of bullying is to hide inadequacy. It has nothing to do with managing:

Management is managing; bullying is not managing. Anyone who chooses to bully implicitly
admits their inadequacy.
Some people project their inadequacy onto others:

to avoid facing up to and doing something about it;

to avoid accepting responsibility for their behaviour and the effect it has; and
to dilute their fear of being seen as weak, inadequate and possibly incompetent; and
to divert attention away from the same: In badly run workplaces, bullying is the way
that inadequate, incompetent and aggressive employees keep their jobs and obtain

Bullying destroys teams, causing disenchantment, demoralisation, demotivation, disaffection,

and alienation. Bullies run dysfunctional and inefficient organisations; staff turnover and
sickness absence are high whilst morale, productivity and profitability are low. Any perceived
efficiency gains from bullying are a short term illusion: Long term prospects are always at
serious risk.
Bullying behaviours are behind all forms of harassment, discrimination, prejudice, abuse,
persecution, terrorism, conflict and violence. Understanding bullying gives a person the
opportunity to understand that which underpins almost all forms of reprehensible behavior.
Because of that, bullying remains the single most important social issue of today.
Workplace Bullying tends to happen in phases that can be called (1) Isolation, (2) Control and
Subjugation and (3) Elimination. The terminology in the examples applies to workplaces but
has parallels in other situations. Examples are loosely categorised under the "Phase" headings
but in reality any of the example behaviours can occur in any phase.

constant nit-picking, fault-finding and criticism of a trivial nature - the triviality,

regularity and frequency betray bullying; often there is a grain of truth (but only a
grain) in the criticism to fool the people (including the target) into believing the
criticism has validity, which it does not; often, the criticism is based on distortion,
misrepresentation or fabrication.
simultaneous with the criticism, a persistent refusal to acknowledge the target and his
or her contributions and achievements or to recognise their existence and value;
constant attempts to undermine the target and his or her position, status, worth, value
and potential where the target is in a group (eg at work),
being isolated and separated from colleagues, excluded from what's going on,
marginalized, overruled, ignored, sidelined, frozen out, "sent to Coventry"
The above can be done with or without the cover of a formal disciplinary or capability

Control and Subjugation

being singled out and treated differently; for instance, everyone else can get away with
murder but the moment the target puts a foot wrong - however trivial - action is taken
against them;
being belittled, demeaned and patronised, especially in front of others;
being humiliated, shouted at and threatened, often in front of others being overloaded
with work, or having all their work taken away and replaced with either menial tasks
(filing, photocopying, minute taking) or with no work at all finding that their work,
and the credit for it, is stolen and plagiarised;
having responsibility increased but authority removed;
having annual leave, sickness leave, and (especially) compassionate leave refused
being denied training necessary to fulfill duties
having unrealistic goals set, which change as they approach, also deadlines change at
short notice, or no notice, and the target only finds out when its too late to do anything
about it.
being the subject of gossip which has the effect of damaging one's reputation.


the target finds that everything they say and do is twisted, distorted and
is subjected to disciplinary procedures with verbal or written warnings imposed for
trivial or fabricated reasons and without proper investigation, or with a sham
is coerced into leaving through no fault of their own, constructive dismissal, early or
ill-health retirement, etc
is dismissed following specious allegations of misconduct or incapability which have
just a grain of truth, to give superficial legitimacy to the dismissal.

One way to conceal bullying is to have regular or even continuous "reorganisations", where:

targets can be "organized out" - this applies to anyone whose face doesn't fit, i.e.
anyone who has identified, complained about or challenged problems with the status
they can have their roles "regraded" or "redefined", if not being organised out.
The bully's allies and political pawns can be promoted to positions of influence.

Where a re-organisation seems pointless or counter-productive, or if it involves a

disproportionate amount of disruption in relation to the perceived benefit of the change, it
could be a smokescreen to conceal (and be a vehicle of) bullying. People are so busy coping
with the chaos that bullying goes unnoticed. At the same time, the person responsible can
claim to be reorganising in the name of efficiency, thus earning him or her the respect of
Business stakeholders should note that bullying, and these forms of concealment, may be
distracting attention from financial fraud, corruption, misappropriation of funds and so on.

How does it happen in a civilised environment?

Bullying happens under the noses of those who should care enough to stop it but who don't,
either because they simply cannot believe it could happen, or because they fear of the
consequences (for them) of doing something about it. Thus, targets of bullying and abuse are
often not believed when they do report it.
People who bully in adult life tend to be drawn to positions offering them ostensibly
legitimate power of some sort, such as jobs that come with administrative or organisational
authority over others. It is possible for a sufficiently dishonest person to abuse a position of
trust to conceal negligence, incompetence, fraud and more, without ever being held
accountable. Subjugation and control by guilt and by threats of worse to come allows abusers
to take what they want, and to minimise the risk of being reported, or of such reports being
believed by, appropriate authorities.
It helps if the bully's superiors and peers are also bullies, or if they are so naive that bullying
by this person is literally unthinkable, or they're scared of the consequences of crossing the
bully. Whatever the underlying reasons, the legitimate authority that comes with a job works
to protect bullies from comeback, because their peers and subordinates, HR & legal
departments and other bystanders, more often than not, blindly respect the legitimacy of the
"master-servant" relationship. Where there are two contrasting accounts of a situation, the
default position is to respect the "master's" opinion. Thus, the perpetrator is often given
support while the target is shut out and eventually forced to leave, usually under a cloud,
freeing the perpetrator to attend to their next target.
There is little to differentiate this cycle of abuse from the situation of child-abusing priests,
where children were too frightened to complain, or were not believed, and where the priests
were allowed to continue to destroy the lives of children in their "care". The worst that
happened to those who were identified as abusers was a move to a different location.
Following the death in 2011 of UK TV and radio presenter Jimmy Savile, stories of abuse by
started to emerge from hundreds of adults, claiming to have been abused by Savile as
children. Much of Savile's career involved working with children and young people, including
visiting schools and hospital wards. He spent 20 years presenting BBC's Top of the Pops
before a teenage audience, and another 20 years presenting "Jim'll Fix It", in which he helped
the wishes of viewers, mainly children, come true. He was renowned for his charitable work.
In October 2012, when the police were pursuing 400 separate lines of inquiry relating to
Savile, John Cameron of the NSPCC said Savile was "a well-organised prolific sex offender,
who's used his power, his authority, his influence to procure children and offend against
them." The Savile situation demonstrated the propensity among victims of abuse by a popular
figure to remain silent, probably because, among other things, of a fear of not being believed.
That fear may well be justified: There were police inquiries while Savile was alive, but none
led to any charges being brought, because there was "insufficient evidence".
Subordinates bully their bosses too. The power or "advantage" which a bully uses is not
restricted to that which comes with position. Power can exist in many forms, including the
potential to destroy the boss's reputation with false or unfair accusations, or a threat that
someone could make an excessive fuss if they don't get their way, or it could take on the form
of spreading malicious rumours, saying things that would never be said to the target's face. In
summary, a bully needs to have some form of advantage over the target, and that advantage
can take on many forms.

Tim Field wrote that in environments where bullying prevails, most people will eventually
either become bullies or targets. There are few bystanders, as most people will eventually be
sucked in. It's about survival: people either adopt bullying tactics themselves and thus survive
by not becoming a target, or they stand up against bullying and refuse to join in, in which case
they are at risk of being bullied, harassed, victimized and scapegoated until they have to
resign, and/or their health is so severely impaired that they have a stress breakdown, take illhealth retirement or are dismissed on capability grounds, or otherwise find themselves
unexpectedly selected for redundancy, or being dismissed on grounds of misconduct.

Who is behind workplace bullying?

Most workplace bullying is traceable to a person with several of these traits, some of which
might only be evident to those who are being or have been bullied themselves:

May occupy a role that is important in some way;

Very self-assured;
May be believed to be doing or to have done something selfless or of great value, eg
charitable work or turning a failing department or business around;
May give off an impression of trustworthiness and reliability.
Has an air of untouchability: questioning this person's actions or decisions is taboo
especially among peers and superiors.


compulsive liar: spontaneously makes things up to fit the needs of the moment;
routinely embellishes stories for effect;
convinces superiors and peers by seeming plausible and convincing, sometimes by
copying others' behaviour, words or work;
portrays him or herself as kind, caring and compassionate but only behaves this way
where it leads to personal gain;
doesn't listen, can't sustain a meaningful conversation;
hollow, superficial and glib;
seems to have an overbearing belief in his or her qualities (especially as a leader or
apparently cannot distinguish between leadership, management and bullying;
o i.e. cannot distinguish between maturity and immaturity, decisiveness and
impulsiveness, assertiveness and aggression, personal objectives and corporate
objectives, eloquence and crassness; honesty and deceitfulness;
is oblivious to the difference between how he or she would like to be seen, and how he
or she is seen.


is drawn to positions of power;

wants to control everything;
has a subjective sense of right and wrong.

"Right" is whatever he or she can get away with, such as falsifying time sheets
to inflate income;
o "Wrong" could be anything done by others, justifying the bully's punishment,
threats, control etc, such as refusing to falsify time sheets for the bully or,
indeed, falsifying them under duress;
projects his or her own shortcomings onto others;
distorts peoples' perceptions of reality through falsehood and gossip;
rewrites history to paint a better picture of him or herself and/or a worse picture of
someone else;
Tells different people different things, causing confusion, disruption, division and
is selectively (un)friendly and (un)cooperative:o is mean, officious and inappropriately inflexible with some people; but is
generous, relaxed and very accommodating with others;
o may motivate allies with the prospect of reward; but motivates most people
with fear and guilt.
threatens dire consequences for people under his or her influence, who think or act for
themselves. Threats could be made directly in private, or indirectly in front of
warns targets that no-one will believe them if they report the bullying;
once called to account:o aggressively denies and refutes any criticism, counter-attacking the critic with
fabricated or distorted counter-criticism;
o claims to have been bullied by the complainant, feigns victimhood, ("poor
me"), uses amateur dramatics (bursting into tears etc), to avoid the question
and evade accountability,
o makes others feel guilty for daring to suggest that he or she might have done
the slightest thing wrong;

Jekyll & Hyde nature

can be innocent and charming some of the time (typically in the presence of
witnesses), but vicious and vindictive at other times (typically where there are no

Ruthless and unpleasant

lacks a conscience, shows no remorse;

has a compulsive need to criticise;
is often devious, manipulative, spiteful, vengeful;
becomes impatient, irritable and aggressive if asked to address the needs and concerns
of others;
may be emotionally cold, humourless, joyless;
may exhibit inappropriate or unusual attitudes to sex, gender, race, disability and other
personal characteristics.

Tim Field estimated that one person in thirty has several of these traits, describing them as
aggressive but intelligent individuals who express their aggression psychologically (constant
criticism etc) rather than physically (assault).

(More information on the Serial Bully)

What triggers bullying?

Where a person displays some of the above traits, bullying can start simply because the target
is there, and does nothing at all to provoke it. Bullying may be unwittingly provoked because
the target is competent, popular, successful, has integrity or otherwise characteristics that the
bully perceives as a threat to their own status, fearing that the target will - inadvertently or
deliberately - expose some negative aspect of their activity. Bullying is a common response to
raising concerns about malpractice (eg fraud, health and safety breaches and bullying),
sometimes called "whistle-blowing". Where a bully wants an employee dismissed, but there is
no legally fair reason, a bully-tolerant employer will apply conduct and capability procedures,
inappropriately and unfairly, to superficially justify the employee's elimination from the
organisation and thus reduce the prospect of being sued for unfair dismissal. Used in that way,
such procedures are themselves vehicles of bullying by the person(s) conducting them.

What does bullying do to health?

Bullying can cause injury to health and make people ill, with some or all of the symptoms
below. Many, if not all of these symptoms are consequences of the high levels of stress and
anxiety that bullying creates:

shattered self-confidence, low self-worth, low self-esteem, loss of self-love, etc

reactive depression, a feeling of woebegoneness, lethargy, hopelessness, anger, futility
and more
hypersensitivity, fragility, isolation, withdrawal
obsession, not being able to stop thinking about the experience in all its detail
hypervigilance (feels like but is not paranoia), being constantly on edge
uncharacteristic irritability and angry outbursts
tearfulness, bursting into tears regularly and over trivial things
sweating, trembling, shaking, palpitations, panic attacks
bad or intermittently-functioning memory, forgetfulness, especially with trivial day-today things
poor concentration, can't concentrate on anything for long
skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, athlete's foot, ulcers, shingles, urticaria
irritable bowel syndrome
flashbacks and replays, obsessiveness, can't get the bullying out of your mind
tiredness, exhaustion, constant fatigue sleeplessness, nightmares, waking early, waking
up more tired than when you went to bed
headaches and migraines
aches and pains in the joints and muscles with no obvious cause; also
back pain with no obvious cause and which won't go away or respond to treatment
frequent illness such as viral infections especially flu and glandular fever, colds,
coughs, chest, ear, nose and throat infections (stress plays havoc with the immune

For the full set of symptoms of injury to health caused by prolonged negative stress (such as
that caused by bullying, harassment, abuse etc) click here. For details of the trauma that can
result, click here.

What happens when someone complains about bullying?

Given the character traits of a typical workplace bully, they can give very plausible accounts
of what has happened so, when the target makes a formal complaint, and if the employer takes
any notice, they are often convinced by the bully, dismissing the target's account of things.
As mentioned above, if the bully is further up the hierarchy than the target, the bully's peers,
HR & legal departments and other bystanders will often believe the bully by default, just
because of the office they hold. (The actions they take next also constitute bullying).
For the target, the experience of being "swept under the carpet" in such circumstances can be
equally or more traumatic than the original bullying, and where the employer is determined
not to acknowledge the problem, it can lead to prolonged absence that ends with resignation,
ill-health retirement or dismissal of the target on specious grounds of conduct or capability, as
well as legal proceedings.
Where there have been previous similar complaints about a person's conduct, and where those
complaints have been followed by illness and/or untimely departures of the persons making
the complaint, one might imagine that any HR officer it would spot the similarities, think
"enough is enough", and do something about it. However, the HR officer might be beguiled
by or terrified of or dependent upon or be the bully, and find it easier to dispose of new
complaints in the same way as before.
Where a business opts to protect a bully, the business takes on the task, costs and liabilities
associated with resisting and eliminating the target, freeing the bully to focus attention on the
next target.

What a bully might say when held to account

This is a real-life text book example of a bully's response to accusations of bullying, when his
game was almost up. In May 2013, former TV presenter Stuart Hall pleaded guilty to 14
charges of indecent assault involving 13 victims, over a period of 18 years. Four months
earlier, however, Hall spoke to reporters after his initial appearance in court. Hall's words are
in italics, with our understanding of what he meant in brackets:

"May I just say these allegations are pernicious, callous, cruel and above all spurious.
o (TFF inference: "I project the key qualities of my sexual deviancy perniciousness, callousness, cruelty and spuriousness - onto my victims'

"And may I just say I am not guilty and will be defending these accusations.
o ("I am prepared to waste taxpayers' resources and commit perjury")

"Like a lot of other people in this country today I am wondering why it has taken 30 or
40 years for these allegations to surface.
o ("I want you to doubt the credibility of my victims")
o NOTE that Hall inadvertently gave a bit of the game away by using the word
"surface", implying that he knew there was substance to the allegations and
that it had thus far been hidden beneath the proverbial surface.

"The last two months of my life have been a living nightmare. I have never gone
through so much stress in my life and I am finding it difficult to sustain.
o ("Poor me. Please share the contempt I have for my victims, by focusing on the
terrible harm they have done to me")

"Fortunately I have a very loving family and they are very supportive and I think but
for their love I might have been constrained to take my own life.
o ("I need you to associate me with the image of a loving family, which has also
been harmed by my victims. Poor family, poor me. What a close shave I am

"They have encouraged me to fight on, to fight the charges and regain my reputation
and good name and whatever I have represented to this country down the years.
o ("I have lied to everyone - those closest to me and the general public - for
years. Even my family think I am innocent. Most people have always thought I
was wonderful and I need that to continue. Who gives a damn about the
children and young women I assaulted.")

"With that I would like to thank everybody who has supported me for their good will
which has sustained me through this absolutely horrific ordeal.
o ("In case I have not already made the point, my victims are audacious and
horrible for coming forward. I genuinely hope that you feel sorry for me.")

"As I say I shall be defending myself. I am 83 years old. I was a healthy 83 year old,
but I am now incubating a heart complaint and I'll be very lucky to survive another
couple of years.
o (In case you don't already feel sorry for me, feel sorry for me because I am
frail and I've got a heart condition, and it's all my victims' fault. To help me get
away with this, I need you to feel really, really sorry for me, and I need you
and the general public to share the disdain and contempt I have for my

"But I hope to survive those two years and regain my honour and reputation and more
than ever, my life."
o ("My reputation and being untouchable are what let me get away with these
crimes for so long. If I can just sustain those things I might reach the end of my
life without being punished, like Jimmy Savile. To that end, I intend to
continue fooling my family, my lawyers and the courts, you reporters and the
whole world, into thinking that I must be innocent.")

Stuart Hall's comments to news reporters after his initial court appearance were just what you
should expect a bully to say when they are being held to account. Their words are meant to
make the listener feel sorry for the accused and contempt for the accuser. In Hall's case, they
were intended to manipulate public opinion in his favour because, in his case, having a jovial
reputation and the public on his side had been enough to deter his victims from reporting his
If you question an alleged bully, and the response is a "poor me" melodrama, punctuated with
expressions of contempt and disdain for the accuser, it could well be an implicit admission of

Am I Being Bullied?
Some people are bullied for years without actually realising it, and others, who are not being
bullied at all, claim that they are victims and seem to revel in the drama. (See the Stuart Hall
example and "Who is Behind Workplace Bullying", above.)
Anyone thinking they might be being bullied needs to step back from the situation and be as
objective as possible. This can be difficult for someone who is being psychologically
manipulated. They can feel guilty about things that are not their fault. A person on the
receiving end of abuse might have become convinced that it is futile or dangerous to make an
accusation about someone who is in fact abusing them. Its a good idea for them to discuss it
with a trusted friend or someone who is completely independent.
Before you accuse someone of bullying, make sure it is really happening. Think it possible
that you may be mistaken. Rule out possible alternative explanations for your experience,
such as:

Some things that feel like bullying are not bullying: for example, if you know you
have broken some disciplinary rule, you will know that your employer is allowed to
use a fair disciplinary procedure to deal with that. If you have behaved badly yourself,
then the way you're treated might be a reaction to that, but, unless you know you have
behaved badly, talk about it to a friend before judging yourself.
If you don't like the way someone is treating you, have you made allowances for the
way they are behaving? They might be having a bad day or week. People can lose
their temper under pressure, and it might be a short term issue. They might be being
bullied themselves. Has this happened before? Is there a pattern to their behaviour?
Does your unhappiness stem from this experience, or from something else?

People who are bullied find that they are:

o isolated and excluded from what's happening;
o denied information or knowledge necessary for undertaking work and
achieving objectives
o starved of resources, sometimes whilst others often receive more than they
o denied support by their manager and thus find themselves working in a
management vacuum
o either overloaded with work (this keeps people busy [with no time to tackle
bullying] and makes it harder to achieve targets) or have all their work taken
away (which is sometimes replaced with inappropriate menial jobs, eg
photocopying, filing, making coffee)
o have their responsibility increased but their authority removed
o overruled, ignored, sidelined, marginalised, ostracised
o given "the silent treatment": the bully refuses to communicate and avoids eye
contact (always an indicator of an abusive relationship); often instructions are
received only via email, memos, or a succession of yellow stickies or post-it

Controlled and Subjugated

o do not have a clear job description, or have one that is exceedingly long;
o set unrealistic goals and deadlines which are unachievable or which are
changed without notice or reason or whenever they get near achieving them
o frequently or constantly criticised and subjected to unwarranted, destructive
o encouraged to feel guilty, and to believe they're always the one at fault
when they defend themselves, their explanations and proof of
achievements are ridiculed, overruled, dismissed or ignored;
o frequently subject to nit-picking and trivial fault-finding. The triviality reveals
an absence of any serious concern
o subject to excessive monitoring, supervision, micro-management, recording,
snooping etc
o undermined, especially in front of others. Concerns are raised, or doubts
expressed about a person's performance or standard of work, but the concerns
lack substance and cannot be quantified, or are simply false;
o threatened, shouted at and humiliated, especially in front of others
o taunted and teased where the intention is to embarrass and humiliate
o singled out and treated differently, e.g. being disciplined for arriving one
minute late, when others stroll in late without penalty;
o belittled, degraded, demeaned, ridiculed, patronised, subject to disparaging
o regularly the target of offensive language, personal remarks, or inappropriate
bad language
o have their work plagiarised, stolen and copied - the bully then presents their
target's work (eg to senior management) as their own
o the subject of written complaints by other members of staff (who have been
coerced into fabricating allegations - the complaints are trivial, often bizarre
["He looked at me in a funny way"] and often bear striking similarity to each
other, suggesting a common origin)
o forced to work long hours, often without remuneration and under threat of
o refused requests for leave, or unacceptable and unnecessary conditions are
o denied annual leave, sickness leave, or - especially - compassionate leave
o when on leave, are harassed by calls at home or on holiday, often at unsocial
o receive unpleasant or threatening calls or are harassed with intimidating
memos, notes or emails with no verbal communication, immediately prior to
weekends and holidays (eg 4pm Friday or Christmas Eve - often these are

o are invited to "informal" meetings which turn out to be disciplinary hearings
o facing unjustified disciplinary action on trivial or specious or false charges
o subjected to unwarranted and unjustified verbal or written warnings
o are denied representation at meetings, often under threat of further disciplinary
action; sometimes the bully abuses their position of power to exclude any
representative who is competent to deal with bullying


dismissed on fabricated charges or flimsy excuses, often using a trivial incident

from months or years previously
coerced into reluctant resignation, enforced redundancy, early or ill-health
denied the right to earn their livelihood including being prevented from getting
another job, usually with a bad or misleading reference

If you're reading this because you think someone you know is being treated this way, send
them a link to the page or print it and give it to them - it might be the best thing you ever do
for them. If you're reading this because you're worried about the way you are being treated by
someone, Read more of this website to find out what courses of action are open to you.

What can I do if I'm being bullied?

Put your health before anything else

o However strong your personality, no one is immune from mental health
problems. Unexpressed anger and fear can lead to depression in "normal"
people. If you're reading this in time, take evasive action before it gets that
o Be aware of and monitor your stress levels. Try not to allow your stress to get
so serious that you become bogged down with it, mindful that it is difficult to
recognise the extent of the problem yourself. Ask family, friends and doctor to
help as appropriate
o Avoid having one-to-one meetings with the bully if you have already
complained about the bullying

Document everything
o Maintain contemporaneous notes of what you said and did, and what others
said and did
o Keep memos, emails and other documents that are evidential of bullying
o Especially if you get bullied in private, consider using a pocket voice recorder
(smartphone) to obtain a verbatim transcript.

Think and operate strategically

o Remember there are things in life you can control, things you can influence,
and things you cannot do anything about. Ultimately, the only thing you can
control is you. Attempting to persuade your employer to act responsibly can be
pointless and thus painful, but it is in your interests to try not to fret about it if
it does not work. Focus your attention on what you can do and are doing.
o There is a risk that any mistakes you make as a result of being bullied, any
sickness absence, and any illness will be used by a bully to discredit you. Most
of what a bully throws at you is designed to provoke a response that can be
used against you.
o Understand this and avoid responding directly to such provocations;
o Always act reasonably and in doing so, a contrast will emerge between your
behaviour and the bully's;
o Accept that this probably is not enough to make it stop;
o Remember that there is more to you than your job, and try not to take it too

Remember that once you decide to resist the bullying, you may be in for the
"long haul";
Seek but do not depend on support from other managers or trade union.
o If they give tell-tale signs that they do not believe you or do not support you,
do not keep hoping that they will support you.
o Seek independent support from neutral third parties.
o Get some help, but think about the interests and personal agendas of the people
you hope to trust;
o Consider who is or might be facilitating the bullying, and avoid confiding in
Equip yourself with your employer's policies and procedures, and make sure that
YOU follow them, and encourage others to do the same;
o Be 100% fair and reasonable, even when standing your ground;
o Always maintain your dignity and be polite, even in the face of rudeness;
o If you can, have a trusted companion with you as a witness in any meeting to
discuss bullying. If you don't have a companion you can trust, make sure you
have an audio recorder;
o Remember that everything you write, say and do might one day be discussed in
a court or tribunal, so make sure your actions are beyond reproach and
justifiable. Don't do or say anything that you would not wish to repeat in

Notes of formal and semi formal meetings often contain omissions or note-takers' conflicting
perceptions of what was said, leading to disputes over the accuracy of the minutes. Eliminate
the possibility of such disputes by making audio recordings of meetings about the bullying,
even if there is a note taker present. You do not need permission to make accurate notes, and it
is very telling when someone who hopes to create a record of the meeting they want, rather
than the meeting they had, objects to you making an audio recording. If there are objections,
record the meeting one way or another.
Keep any recordings and notes strictly confidential and use them only for legitimate purposes.
A covert recording of a confidential meeting could be perceived by an employer as a breach
of trust, leading to disciplinary action A court or tribunal might only consider covert recording
as legitimate conduct where the recording discloses a more significant breach of trust by
someone else.

If you have tried the above and it is not working out, seriously consider changing
o Even though it is unfair that you should have to leave, it is better to do so on
your terms, when you choose, with your mental health, disciplinary record and
sickness absence record intact, than to stick it out, battling an insuperable
force, and being dismissed on some specious misconduct charge after
exhausting your entitlement to paid sick leave, suffering from depression.
o If you are considering leaving, consider your legal options as well - you may
have recourse through the legal system but remember to put your health and
wellbeing before any other consideration.

What can you do if one of your employees is accused of


Do not ignore it
It is possible for a complaint to be faked, or for a complainant to be mistaken. It is also
possible that they may be right. Therefore, do not presume anything and do not make
decisions based on rumours.
Be aware of the modus operandi of bullies and their special talents for flattery and for
acquiring a following.
In a dispute over bullying, the bully is likely to be the one with the most witnesses
until enough people decide that it is safe to speak out.
Do not try to understand what drives the bully's behaviour. Concentrate on their
actions rather than psychological causes.
Get support. Use HR professionals and occupational psychologists. Use external
specialists if your environment might restrict the freedom of an internal partner to
objectively assess the situation
Be prepared to dismiss an employee that bullies others. The more influence they have
over your results, the more they should behave well. If you tolerate bad behaviour
among people who drive your bottom line, you will give the message "We want the
results and we don't care what you do to achieve them". This is the worst message you
could give when you remember that bullying at work destroys teams, collaboration
and willingness to contribute; it increases staff turnover and puts your business at risk
of lawsuits, as well as indicating a high potential for fraud and corruption.
Leave no doubt in your employees' minds that it is always safe to speak out.
The fact of the complaint discloses something serious, so aim to get to the bottom of it
as promptly as possible
Listen very carefully to the complainant
Establish whether the incidents complained of actually occurred
If you do not believe the complainant, get some help from an expert
Put your employees' health before anything else
Think about the interests and agendas of the people who give you evidence
Follow policies and procedures
Be 100% fair and reasonable
If bullying is occurring, do not make excuses for it - it will happen again and be worse
next time.

"More information on identifying and overcoming bullying and its effects on

health is in Tim Field's book Bully in sight: how to predict, resist, challenge and
combat workplace bullying"