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Why bullying is harmful

Published 19 February 2018

The damaging impact of bullying in the workplace

The harmful effect of bullying in the workplace can be both devastating and costly.

Employers should take a zero-tolerance approach to any type of bullying. It can be physical, verbal, or it can be perpetrated through relationships and social exclusion -sometimes it is all three.

Whatever form the unacceptable behaviour takes it can be harmful to the physical, mental and emotional well-being of the employee on the receiving end of it, and also damaging to the success and productivity of any business.

Prior to becoming prime minister David Cameron wrote for the National Bullying Helpline (1) and said: “Stamping out bullying in the workplace and elsewhere is a vital objective. Not only can bullying make people’s lives a misery, but it harms business and wider society too.”

A previous YouGov Poll (for the TUC) (2), found that 29 per cent of people questioned had been the victims of workplace bullying. That is nearly 3 in every 10 workers, which was said to equate to 9.1 million of the UK workforce at the time.

Recent research revealed that 75 per cent of those quizzed had witnessed workplace bullying, including threatening behaviour, or interference, such as work sabotage (3).

Such behaviour can lead to poor staff morale and performance, loss of respect for managers and colleagues, resentment towards an organisation, sickness absence, resignation and subsequent employment tribunal claims.

The personal impact on the victim can include a loss of confidence and self-esteem, depression, anxiety, health complaints and time off sick.

At one stage bullying at work was said to be costing the UK economy £18 billion a year (4). The figure combined sickness-related absences (as a result of bullying), staff turnover and the reduction of productivity.

Departments can be left short-staffed and struggling to meet demands as a result of sickness absences, workloads can increase for other workers which can lead to lower company morale, higher stress levels and a drop in productivity.

The ACAS guidance titled - Bullying and harassment at work: a guide for managers and employers (5)states bullying can be characterised as: Offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.

The difficulty employers can face in dealing with some complaints of bullying is differentiating between what is firm management and bullying.

Organisations should list examples of what it considers to be unacceptable behaviour. It can include:  spreading malicious rumours, ridiculing or demeaning someone, exclusion or victimisation, unfair treatment and unwelcome sexual advances and causing an individual to fear for their job security.

Workplace bullies do not just subject their victims to physical abuse as they tend to use psychological intimidation, which can be just as distressing for the person on the receiving end. Some incidents taken on their own may seem insignificant, but there is a snowballing effect which builds into a much more serious situation.

It can take a tremendous amount of courage for a victim tormented by a workplace bully to speak out. They are likely to have suffered in silence and view reporting the matter as the last desperate resort to bring an end to the suffering.

It is vital that any such complaints should be taken seriously and investigated without unreasonable delay and in accordance with an organisation’s grievance policy (6) or  any other relevant policy that covers such matters.

An employee can use the grievance procedure (7) to report bullying. A grievance is a concern, problem or complaint raised by a staff member with management.



1. About the National Bullying Helpline [Internet]. [cited 2018 Feb 18]. Available from:

2. Chief D. Nearly a third of people are bullied at work, says TUC [Internet]. TUC. 2015 [cited 2018 Feb 18]. Available from:

3. Printerland. 2017 Workplace Bullying Study [Internet]. Printerland Blog. 2017 [cited 2018 Feb 18]. Available from:

4. The Cube 123 Albion Street. Acas study reveals that workplace bullying is on the rise with many people too afraid to talk about it | Acas press release [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2018 Feb 18]. Available from:

5.  Bullying and harassment | Acas advice and guidance [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2018 Feb 18]. Available from:

6. Handling an employee’s grievance - GOV.UK [Internet]. [cited 2018 Feb 18]. Available from:

7. Raising a Grievance [Internet]. Castle Associates Ltd. 2016 [cited 2018 Feb 18]. Available from:





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