Are you being bullied at work?

Posted on 5th June 2017

What constitutes bullying in the workplace and what can you do if you find yourself on the receiving end?

ACAS say: “Bullying may be characterised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.”

We're all different and what upsets one person, may not upset another. That, however, certainly doesn't make it right.

Karen* relates her experience.

“Part of my role was to sample the work of new starters. I spotted a significant error in a trainees work and needed to speak to them urgently. My Team Leader approached me and asked how a project had gone over the weekend.  I jokingly said "Don't ask!” before adding “I just need to sort this out and then I'll be back".

When I returned there was an obvious change in atmosphere. Up to this point, I'd had a good relationship with all the team, including my boss and the team leaders. My team leader was curt and told me in front of everyone that she didn't appreciate being spoken to in that way. I apologised straight away but she didn't want to hear it. I felt awful, so I asked to have a meeting with her to try and sort things out.

In the meeting, I apologised again, but it didn't matter what I said, she wouldn't accept my apology in any way. We left the room with the same bad atmosphere we'd entered it with.

My peers looked on with sympathy as they told me it was 'my turn'. Those who'd been on the team longer than me explained she always had 'someone to take things out on'.

Work was never the same after that. I would come into the department and senior staff would stop talking as I approached. They only spoke to me when they really had to. There was no chit chat, no guidance, and no support. I considered trying to talk to my overall manager, but her behaviour towards me had also changed. I assumed my team leader had told her her version of events. I felt powerless, excluded and downright miserable.

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I spoke to my colleagues who all agreed I was being treated badly, but none of them would support me. They didn't want to be on the receiving end either and I couldn't really blame them.

There were a few specific incidents which really stood out for me, such as the time she asked me to type up hours of call recordings as the transcripts had been lost. Only for them to reappear again once I'd completed days of painstaking and monotonous work.

Or the incident where I was trying to get a time critical task finished before leaving and was working late (something everyone did at times). She took the source documents away from me and told me to leave the building.  The work wasn’t finished on time so I was in trouble.

But other than those, everything was ‘low level’ and hard to define.

As I was pregnant, I had a way out.  I started my maternity leave as soon as I could, knowing I could never go back.

At the time, I hadn't labelled it as bullying, it was actually much later when I saw it for what it was.

Looking back I wish I'd done something about it. I imagine she went on to find a new person to focus her attention on and perhaps I could have prevented that.”

Was Karen being bullied at work?

From this account, it certainly sounds like it.   

It's clear that Karen tried to rectify matters by having a meeting with the team leader and also asking for support from her colleagues.  It's always a good idea to try and sort out any misunderstandings as soon as possible. Sadly in Karen's case, this wasn't enough and Karen could have lodged a letter of grievance, being a formal letter of complaint. 

What to do if you think you’re being bullied at work

Often people who are being bullied take limited action or none at all for fear of making the situation worse. If no action is taken, there is very little chance of the situation improving and this can have all sorts of implications, especially around your health and well-being.

  • Speak to the person concerned – they may not realise the impact of their behaviour
  • Speak to a trusted colleague or friend for support or your union rep if you are a union member
  • Check your company’s policy regarding bullying and associated procedures for support
  • Keep copies of any documentation or meeting notes
  • Keep a record of any incidents – recording the time, date, situation and witnesses
  • Lodge a letter of grievance so that your employer can look into the matter and hopefully resolve it

You can also contact us for a free initial telephone consultation.

It's your employer's responsibility to ensure bullying is not tolerated in the workplace.  Unless your employer is informed of what is happening to you, your employer may not be aware. 

This article is for general information and is not intended as specific advice. Each individual’s circumstances will be different.

*Karen’s name has been changed for this article.