Have you been the victim of workplace bullying?

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According to the Samaritans, bullying affects eight in ten workers in Britain. And the recession has made people even more report the problem in case they lose their job or receive a bad reference for causing trouble.

Can you tell when you’re being bullied, and do you know what you can do about it?

What counts as bullying?

So many people muddle through the working day not even realising that the way they’re being treated constitutes bullying or harassment – and that they have certain legal rights.

Bullying at work can take the form of:

  • Derogatory comments

Practical jokes that go too far or inappropriate comments (about a woman’s attire or sexual attractiveness, for example) are often brushed aside as workplace banter. It’s these seemingly harmless jibes which can make working life hellish for the person on the receiving end, so it’s important that everyone recognises when a line has been crossed.

  • Spreading rumours

Anyone who tries to undermine your reputation and cause you distress by spreading malicious rumours on the grounds of age, race, sex, disability, sexual orientation or religion is a bully.

  • Intimidation tactics

When somebody rocks the boat at work, there will always be some people who are terrified of being caught out not doing their job well enough or don’t want the status quo to change.

The threat could be a general one, or it could take the form of somebody suggesting that you could lose your job should you not fall in line. This is a bully’s attempt to stop you from reporting them – ignore it.

Even large organisations like the NHS are susceptible to these issues: they have just set up a dedicated whistle blowing phone line to protect staffs who want to come forward with information in a safe environment.

  • Unhelpful criticism

Getting feedback on your performance is one thing, but criticism should be constructive, reasonable and related to the objectives you’ve been set. If your manager is criticising you unfairly, not being specific about why they’re not happy with you (and fail to offer realistic suggestions for how you can do better) or reprimand you in a public space then they are bullying you.

  • Coercion

If a manager asks you to do something out with your normal job description or isn’t allowing you to take your annual leave, it’s important that you don’t feel pressured to do it out of fear of losing your job.

  • Exclusion

Bullying isn’t always overt: passive bullying can take the form of a staff member being deliberately left out of meetings, social events and decisions they should be a part of.

  • Cyber bullying

Bullies can also be cowardly, which is why they love to hide online where they can send offensive emails, use social media to spread rumours or poke fun at a staff member on a blog. Just because it doesn’t happen face-to-face doesn’t make it any less harmful.

Effects of bullying

Chronic bullying is a serious mental health issue, and can take its toll on your quality of life as well as seriously affect your job performance.

Bottling it up can lead to employees feeling depressed, anxious, less willing to speak up in meetings or put their ideas forward because their confidence has been knocked. It can even manifest itself in physical conditions such as skin rashes or weight issues.

What you can do

If telling your bully that their behaviour isn’t acceptable doesn’t work, your first post of call should be your line manager. If the bully is your manager or your manager dismisses your complaint, try taking the issue up with your HR department or a trade union representative and make a formal complaint through a grievance procedure.

But in some cases, a bullying culture might be so entrenched in your company that it’s impossible to resolve the issue internally. When you’ve exhausted all options, many see the only choice as being to look for a new job. While some people prefer to move on as quickly as possible and put the past behind them, you might want to consider taking legal action so they won’t subject anyone else to such hardships.

Speak to a lawyer, they will be able to advise you if you have a case under the protection from Harassment Act or perhaps the Health and Safety Act. Save any documentation you could produce such as emails or screen grabs of social media sites if you’re asked to prove that there’s been a pattern of behaviour.

When choosing a new job, try to look into their workplace culture and processes before you sign on the dotted line. Ask about what their feedback process is like, what their staff turnover rate is, what the chain of command will be and what their disciplinary procedure looks like.

Image courtesy of Ambro & Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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