Bullying and harassment

Bullying exists. Always has done and always will. You’ll find bullies everywhere, not just in the classroom and the playground, but also on the building site, in the office and on the shop floor.

Ask any school teacher and most will say that bullying starts at a young age in a minority of children – it is their way of finding their place in the pecking order or getting their way. Unfortunately some children who bullied at school, go on to use those behaviours and tactics in the workplace. However, they learn to be more devious in their bullying, as most organisations do not tolerate overt bullying or the lesser charge of harassment and have policies to deal with such aberrant behaviours.

Our nearest animal relatives – chimpanzees, exhibit extreme bullying behaviours to establish their position in the social hierarchy; the punishment for any ape that challenges the ruling alphas can be very harsh. So it is with humans, it is part of our ancestry and behavioural legacy to put others in their place sometimes, even though our process of socialisation should enable us to find other ways of getting what we want.

So when does a direct and confrontational management style become bullying? Essentially, bullying is in the eye of the beholder – if you feel someone’s behaviour is intimidating then it could be viewed as bullying. Wagging a finger in your face, fixing you with a stare and telling you in no uncertain terms that you crossed the line in a meeting by contradicting them – could be viewed as ‘strict guidance’. However, if this is part of a pattern of intimidating behaviour used with an individual, then it is likely to be bullying.


Bullying covers a wide range of actions, from name calling, saying or writing hurtful things, leaving colleagues out of activities, not talking to them, threatening them and making them feel scared or making them do things they don’t want to do. Some people are more at risk of being bullied, especially those who are deemed somehow different to those around them, jealousy can often be at the root of the problem.

There are various types of bullying:
• Physical; actual or threatened physical violence.
• Verbal, which includes insults, racist, sexist or homophobic comments.
• Psychological – probably the most commonly encountered type of workplace bullying – which covers actions like spreading rumours, excluding and isolating, humiliating or belittling the victim in front of colleagues, giving them too much work so they are bound to fail or be overworked, unfairly passing them over for promotion and blaming them for mistakes or problems that are not their fault.

Bullying can be in person, on the phone or via email and the internet. Most commonly (though not always) the perpetrator is in a more senior position than the person they are bullying.

How should you deal with a bully? Well it takes courage and some guile. The usual recommendation is that you need to ‘stand up to a bully’ and show that you are not a person to be intimidated, but this is hard if the person doing the bullying is someone in a position of authority. Step 1 – seek confidential advice from another manager or human resource professional. Step 2 – if you feel confident enough – assert yourself with the person concerned, knowing that there is a policy to fall back on. Step 3 – escalate the issue by reporting the situation to someone who can support you. You definitely do not have to put up with it!

Mohandas K. Gandhi, said something particularly sage: ‘First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.’ Whether you’ve been bullied, know someone who is being bullied or are a bully yourself, keep those words in mind. Bullies don’t have to win.

According to the Workplace Bullying Helpline 19 million sick days are lost due to bullying per annum. It is not ever the fault of the bullied person and is not a fact of working life that should just be endured. Laws are in place to deal with this kind of behaviour and your organisation should have its own procedures to implement these laws.

Bullying is an increasing problem in the workplace and I discuss this, and simple ways to help you and your staff tackle it, in The Corporate Wellness Bible. Get in touch to find out more.


Extracted from The Corporate Wellness Bible by Kate Cook (www.infideas.com). To discuss how your business can benefit from The Corporate Wellness Bible, including how you can order bespoke versions for your company, please email corporatewellness@infideas.com or call David Grant on 01865 514 888.

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