Bullying is an emotive topic within the workplace. The difficulty for companies is identifying it and determining if there is a legitimate complaint or if someone is resistant to being managed. Bullying can be misinterpreted as strong management and bullies rely on a culture where there is a perception, rightly or wrongly, that complaints of bullying won’t be believed or addressed.

Companies need to be clear on what bullying is and recognise that it can be very complex. Bullying is thought of as schoolyard behaviour but it can be a lot more subtle at work. Workplace bullying is the repeated mistreatment of one or more individuals by one or more perpetrators through a range of actions that can be humiliating, intimidating or undermining as well as creating work interference or sabotage which prevents work from getting done.

To prevent bullying in the workplace companies need to foster a supportive environment promoting fair and sensitive treatment. Bullying often leads to affected people feeling vulnerable, upset, undermined and stressed and will frequently damage their health. Managers at all levels need to watch out for the signs of a bullying personality and the impact of bullying behaviour. Mistreatment should be recognised and the targets should be supported and assisted in dealing with it rather than being expected to resolve it themselves. Companies need to understand that bullying undermines legitimate business interests because the bully’s personal agendas take precedence over the work itself. Bullying behaviour should be addressed whenever it comes to light.

There is a range of bullying behaviours that companies should watch for. Some of these are clear and overt, such as threatening, humiliating or ridiculing individuals, excessive monitoring and unjustified criticism. Some are less obvious such as taking the credit for other people’s work but never the blame, overriding someone else’s authority and reacting to any attempts to discuss a problem by criticising the person who raised it.

Individual managers might not realise that they are bullies because they do not recognise their behaviour. Consider giving management training but be aware of their relationship with other managers and subordinates in order to develop a clear picture of each manager rather than the carefully constructed image they might try to present.

Watch out for the signs of a serial bully. This person is often someone who is a practiced and convincing liar although they may appear charming. They are often superficial and shallow but with no real substance and will strive to give the appearance of being more up to date and knowledgeable than they often are. They will be highly manipulative and seek to undermine anyone who they see as a potential threat. A bully may make wholly unfounded and unsupported criticisms of others while exaggerating their own abilities and standing.

Companies should develop a bullying policy that sets out what is viewed as bullying and what the procedure is for investigating any complaints. Clearly set out that any complaints of bullying will be taken seriously and handled carefully and sensitively.

For more information on how to deal with bullying in the workplace please contact our Advice Service on
0844 892 2772.