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Why bullying is a problem

Published 06 August 2018

Now more than ever before we are encouraged to speak out and feel empowered to report and not tolerate any unsavoury behaviour in the workplace.

Bullying is one such behaviour. There was once a tendency for overly aggressive management to be casually excused as ‘firm but fair’ management.

Now, the blurred dividing line between the two appears to be very much clearer. It’s not just managers that can be the problem, as colleagues can also be the culprits.

ACAS in its guide titled Bullying and harassment at work: a guide for managers and employers characterises bullying as: offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.(1)

Bullying can have a detrimental impact on any workplace and be bad for business. There is a human, economic and social cost.

If employees are not enjoying work and feeling demeaned and devalued it is not conducive to a productive workplace.

Victims of bullying can feel nervous, afraid, vulnerable and humiliated. This, inevitably, can lead to feelings of hopelessness, frustration and anger that can cause stress and result in a loss of confidence and self-esteem.

This does undoubtedly impact on performance and attendance. In extreme cases it can even have fatal consequences. It was reported that one junior doctor took her own life after telling friends she was being bullied at work (2).

In November 2015, ACAS revealed that its helpline takes more than 20,000 phone calls each year in relation to bullying and harassment (3).

Bullying at work was said to cost the UK economy £18 billion a year, from sickness-related absences (as a result of bullying), staff turnover and the reduction of productivity.

The impact of bullying in the workplace is not only felt by the target of it. There can be a knock-on effect on colleagues who have witnessed it. They are likely to be afraid that they will be targeted next, which can affect moral and performance, cause stress and be completely demorolising.

An inability or reluctance to deal with bullying can prove costly for an employer.  It can have a negative impact on the culture of an organisation and be viewed as acceptable by other employees. It can also lead to employment tribunal claims, which can attract media interest and severely damage the reputation of an employer.

The hitherto picture of the workplace bully ranting, raving and being openly threatening and hostile is maybe a thing of the past. The perpetrators now tend to use psychological intimidation, which is just as devastating for the victim.

Bullying comes in many different guises. While some incidents may seem petty, there is a snowballing effect which means the matters can build into something much more serious.

It has long been the case that bullies operate unperturbed and unchallenged due to a psychological hold over their victims.

Certainly in recent months and in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein Hollywood scandal (4)targets of inappropriate work-related behaviour, including bullying, are finding the courage to speak out.

Previous research conducted by YouGov for the TUC (5)discovered that nearly a third of people (29 per cent) are bullied at work. The study found women (34 per cent) were more likely to be victims of bullying than men (23 per cent).

It was found that workplace bullying was predominantly among those aged 40 to 59, where 34 per cent of adults are affected. Nearly one third (29 per cent) of Asian employees or those from other ethnic backgrounds reported being subjected to some form of bullying or harassment compared with 18 per cent of white employees.

Bullying in the workplace can be a major problem. Employers should take a zero-tolerance approach to any form of bullying. Clear policies and procedures should be in place to tackle such beahviour, and to support any member of staff making a complaint. 


1. Bullying and harassment | Acas advice and guidance [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2018 Aug 5]. Available from:

2. Geaves P. Junior doctor who took her own life felt “bullied” at hospital [Internet]. devonlive. 2018 [cited 2018 Aug 6]. Available from:

3. Evesson J, Oxenbridge S, Taylor D. Seeking better solutions: tackling bullying and ill-treatment in Britain’s workplaces. :16.

4. How the Harvey Weinstein scandal unfolded. BBC News [Internet]. 2018 May 25 [cited 2018 Aug 4]; Available from:

5. Chief D. Nearly a third of people are bullied at work, says TUC [Internet]. TUC. 2015 [cited 2018 Aug 5]. Available from:

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A reputation built on success

For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 


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