How to deal with a workplace bully

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angry bossFrank May/DPA/Press Association Images

Being bullied may seem like the sort of thing you were supposed to leave behind in the playground, but according to the TUC some 3.5 million people say they have been bullied at work, which amounts to 14% of the workforce. Research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development shows that 16% of people think bullying by line managers has increased in the current environment.

Bullying can be destructive to both you and your career, so it's worth knowing the five ways to beat a bully at work.


1. Recognise the signs

If bullying is rife in the workplace, it can easily build to a pitch where we no longer realise we're being bullied. However, if you face one or more of the following types of behaviour, there's a good chance you are being bullied:

  • Unfairly treated on a regular basis
  • Picked on
  • Humiliated in front of colleagues
  • Being shouted at or physically harmed
  • Blamed for things which aren't your fault
  • Given too much to do
  • Threatened with the sack regularly
  • Passed over for promotion unfairly

2. Set your boundaries

There's no point in angrily confronting a bully. However, Roslind Toynbee, director of thecareercoach.co.uk says: "In the early stages it's worth calmly and confidently setting boundaries. So after a specific incident you can take them aside and outline the specific behaviour you consider unacceptable. It shouldn't be confrontational but it may just be that boundaries need to be set."


2. Talk to a third party

Your next step should be an informal chat with a third party. You need to be certain that there aren't other reasons for the bully's behaviour. So, for example, there may be a good reason why you are regularly given too much to do - it may not be personal. Gill Miller, an adviser at the CIPD says: "In the current environment many people are finding they are under more pressure and their workloads have increased." Toynbee adds: "You need to be sure that the criticism is not justified, so get feedback from your colleagues."

3. Take action within the company

Speak to someone in a position to take some sort of action. This may be your manager, but if it's the manager doing the bullying you can bring in your HR department or union representative. They may be able to resolve things with a meeting between all the involved parties and an airing of issues.

Miller says: "One of the problems at the moment is that people are worried that it may impact on their job security if they speak up, but there are legal protections in place which mean you should not be penalised for broaching the issue. It is in the best interests of the employer to resolve conflicts or it could cause them more problems."

4. Make a formal complaint

Your employer will have listed out how to do this in the company handbook, and you'll need to follow the process properly. Usually you will need to make a complaint in writing, then attend a meeting, and then you will get a chance to appeal the decision.

Miller says: 'If it comes to a formal process, keep a diary of events, it helps if you can be specific when making a complaint about bullying."

5. Move on

This may be the option you take at any stage of the process. If things have got too bad, then you may decide that a formal complaint isn't worth it in the end.

Some people will feel so aggrieved and wounded by the experience that they wish to resign and then claim unfair dismissal. Others will simply want to put the matter behind them and move on.

Toynbee says: "Decide what is important to you, Some will think it's best to move on, others are prepared to be more assertive. You need to decide what is right for you and then take the appropriate action."

Solving a bullying problem at work is rarely an overnight success. However, there are a number of solutions and there will be one for you. Even in this current environment there are some things that no-one should have to put up with.

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