Five questions on workplace bullying answered

Five questions on workplace bullying answered

It’s anti-bullying week, and conversations are taking place across the UK, aimed at breaking the silence on bullying. While much of the activity has focused on schools and colleges, we’re shining a spotlight on workplace bullying. Here we tackle some common questions on the subject.

Is workplace bullying a problem in the UK?

According to ACAS, it is. In 2015, ACAS received 20,000 calls relating to workplace bullying. A 2008 study revealed that absence and reduced productivity caused by bullying costs the UK economy £17.65 billion a year.

But what exactly is workplace bullying?

Part of the challenge for employers and employees is a lack of clarity on what actually constitutes bullying. The law protects employees from harassment, which includes things like spreading malicious rumours, regularly undermining someone or repeatedly ‘picking on’ an individual. The Equality Act 2010 also made it illegal to treat an employee differently based upon their age, sex, disability, gender, marital status, pregnancy, race, religion or sexual orientation. But there are many cases which may fall outside of this legal definition which may still count as bullying.

I think my situation fits the legal definition. What now?

Speaking up about bullying can be difficult. ACAS’s 2015 study found that many people who feel they’re being bullied are afraid to talk to their employer for fear of damaging their own career. No-one should have to put up with harassment or discrimination, so do speak to your employer. Gather as much evidence as you can, and come prepared with key facts, including what happened, when, who was there and how that behaviour made you feel. Although this does not have to be formal, it may help to speak to an organisation like ACAS first to get some advice, and to follow up the meeting with a written summary.

How do I know if I’m being bullied?

Although the legal definition isn’t always clear, you should still seek help and talk to someone. Your employer might have an internal bullying policy, which may give you additional options. They may also provide a confidential counselling service to help you with the emotional impact. Studies show that bullying can cause depression or low self esteem long after the incident or incidents have happened. So it’s important to make the most of any support on offer. Raising the issue can be scary, but having an initial conversation with your manager or HR department will help you clarify our options. If it’s making you feel uncomfortable, talk about it, regardless of whether you think it fits a ‘legal’ definition of bullying.

How can employers tackle bullying?

ACAS points out that, as well as having a clear bullying and harassment policy, employers can help train and support managers to be more aware of the issues. Senior leaders should also act as role models when it comes to bullying, and acceptable behaviour standards should be clearly defined within organisations. A culture of speaking out should be fostered, so that early interventions can prevent problems from escalating.

For more information, help and support, visit the ACAS website at

The My Possible Self app can help individuals cope with challenges and conflicts at work. It can also help employers improve the wellbeing of their workforce. It’s available via iTunes, Google Play Store and via desktop at

Sam Weston

I am a social media manager, content writer and audio enthusiast - I set a world record once upon a time!