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The Effects of Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying in the WorkplaceWith work being a such a huge part of our daily lives, it is important to find a job that makes you feel happy and satisfied. There is nothing worse than that sinking feeling on a Sunday night when you dread going to work, particularly if you work in a negative environment. Over time, it will inevitably impact your life both inside and outside of work, and possibly your health.

Figures suggest that as many as 75% of employees have been the target of or witness to instances of bullying in the workplace. It is clearly an area that can significantly improve an employee’s happiness, commitment, loyalty and productivity but is often an area which is easily overlooked or played down as ‘just office banter’. In fact, bullying and harassment can take a number of forms including being biased towards a certain employee or group, cases of sexual harassment or general bullying such as talking about and making fun of colleagues.

Once a case of bullying in the workplace has been identified it is important that this is confronted and the appropriate steps taken to resolve the issue. Every employee has the right to come to work and feel safe so the ability to recognise the signs and tackle the bullies in the first instance will help maintain a productive and safer working environment. Let’s now look at the different types of workplace bullying that may occur and what to do about them..

Favourable Behaviour

If certain employees are being treated unfairly to the extent that a particular person or group are being favoured, it’s not long before it will become noticed and get other employees backs up. Giving employees preferential treatment can be displayed in many ways including biased promotions, longer and extra breaks, preferences to holiday allocation, noticeable praise in their work in comparison to others and allocating less tasks than to other members or giving more flexibility in their task deadlines. This type of behaviour may seem subtle but can seriously affect the morale of those employees who fall on the wrong side of this behaviour. What’s more, they might find it hard to speak up about it for fear that they will be treated even more unfavourably as a result.

Being Isolated

With the amount of hours spent at work in a working week, most employees will spend the majority of your time with your colleagues, more so than they do with their own friends and family. In many workplaces, this leads to employees building true friends and relationships at work, but it is just as easy to form negative or toxic friendships too. Affecting employees could find themselves excluded from a group or being actively ignored. This deliberate isolation is a form of bullying and if working in teams could cause much tension, stress and worry.

Disguised by Humour

People often use the term ‘it was only a bit of banter’ but when you are at the brunt of these comments or actions and it moves towards disrespectful or offensive comments, it is a far from pleasant experience and can quickly lead to isolation. At the right levels and used appropriately humour amongst colleagues in the workplace can make the day more enjoyable, help lighten the mood and encourage team bonding. But when this becomes more personal, in relations to gender, sexual preferences, ethnic origin amongst others it can cause distress. All team members should remain vigilant to this activity as often the person at the brunt of the jokes will not feel strong enough to fight back, so if someone is clearly showing unease, others should be willing to come to their aid and confront the perpetrator.

Office Gossip

When working in an office it doesn’t take long for news or ‘gossip’ to spread. This can escalate quickly and depending on the subject matter, whether work related or personal, could have serious effects on the people involved, from potentially harming their career to affecting their mental health. With the prominence of technology impacting communications between select individuals or groups at work from instant messaging to emails and collaborative chat rooms, the opportunities for office gossip to develop are plentiful. Whilst this can never be eliminated, it is best practice to set clear guidelines for conversations with existing and new employees, so everyone is clear what will and won’t be tolerated.

These are just some of the ways to identify bullying in the workplace, but many other types of bullying also exist. It is important to recognise the number of ways that bullying can occur, including the physical environment, digital communication, social media or even via letters. From a legal point of view, it’s important to be clear on which forms of harassment will stand up in court should a formal complaint be made. When the harassment directly relates to a person’s religion, gender or race, a case will often be valid.

If you are aware of bullying in the workplace it is important to take the following steps:

Keep evidence:

If you have been witness to bullying or a complaint has been made it is important to start collecting any evidence in the event of this being escalated further. Be sure to save any incriminating emails or paperwork, document overheard comments or physical incidences of bullying as well as taking a screenshot of demeaning behaviour on social media.

Find someone to confide in:

Being the victim of bullying can really knock a person’s confidence and cause them to become introverted and withdrawn at work. However it is important to try to talk to someone whether it be a friend or manager at work or away from work to family or friends. This can help them to feel less isolated and may give them the confidence they need to report the problem at work.

Speak one on one with the bully:

Whilst this may feel a step too far for many, confronting the bully by trying to reach the cause of any underlying issue or to make them aware of how their behaviour is affecting others can help to resolve the problem and help to change their future actions. In some cases, the bully may not even realise their actions are causing such distress and may genuinely be mortified that they are being considered a bully. Sometimes, addressing the problem directly can cause an immediate resolution without any further action being necessary.

Consult experts for advice:

There are a number of people to speak to in the event of bullying at work. The Citizens Advice Bureau is available to anyone and can provide independent legal advice. They will also be able advise on relevant support groups that can help employees through their ordeal.

If bullying is affecting a person physically or mentally, it is always advisable to speak to a doctor. They might be able to determine whether the employee is beginning to suffer from stress in the workplace and can put actions in place to take some leave from the office. Having some time away from the negative environment might allow the employee to refocus, rest and gain some strength to come back and report the problem.

Finally, if the correct channels at work are not bringing the problem to a close, or the bullying is taking place by the very people an employee normally should report such matters to, it may be worth seeking the advice of a legal expert who specialises in employment law and bullying at work cases. With many offering a free consultation or working on a no win, no fee basis, a simple conversation with someone outside of the organisation could leave the employee feeling much more confident with regards to reporting the behaviour, knowing they have the right support on their side.