Dr Lynda Shaw, a chartered psychologist discusses the effects workplace bullying has on businesses.

The crippling effects of workplace bullying, which is rife in the UK but often goes unnoticed and unreported, is taking an immeasurable toll on our workforce.  With one fifth of all UK employees experiencing some form of bullying and harassment, and employees with disabilities at least twice as likely to report having experienced bullying and harassment, I believe bullying is one of the major crises facing business today.

When a bully targets someone, they may at first feel angry and frustrated, which can lead to a feeling of vulnerability and loss of confidence.  If this happens, sleep, appetite, emotions and motivation are adversely affected.  Levels of anxiety are heightened and can manifest into physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive disorders and more.  It is hardly surprising that stress related absenteeism is a huge concern.

Workplace bullying can often increase during times of austerity when the workforce is undergoing change, and anxiety can run high in the workforce, however all too often we are afraid to address it.

When we think of bullying we probably think of cyber bullying and bullying in the playground, but businesses need to face up to the issue of bullying in their workforce. Both employees and employers are suffering as a result of workplace bullying, with high sickness rates, high employee turnover and low morale. Employers are responsible for taking preventative action against bullying and harassment, but they often turn a blind eye, perhaps because they believe adults should just be able to sort it out amongst themselves.

Whilst having anti-bullying policies and training staff on bullying is essential, businesses may need to hire specialist companies to help deal with the issue. Specialist training can advise on ways to prevent bullying and how to deal with it effectively, when it does arise. Mediation companies can also provide trained professionals to mediate between the bully and the victim where possible.

More needs to be done to raise awareness of workplace bullying so that all businesses can enforce a zero tolerance policy. Some people do not realise their behaviour is bullying. Bullying can vary from spreading malicious rumours, unfair treatment, to picking on someone, undermining a competent worker, denying someone’s training or promotion opportunities, ignoring, humiliating or excluding someone, to undervaluing their work performance. It can happen face to face, by email, by letter, on social media or by phone, so it may not always be obvious to other people.

Bullying at work is in no one’s best interest, as it creates a miserable working environment, de-motivates employees, causes poor performance and stifles careers.  If everyone did something to address workplace bullying we could solve it. Whether it be encouraging supportive work relationships, training staff on the effects of bullying, following a bullying policy or ultimately recognising when it is happening and addressing it immediately. It is imperative that bullying is not tolerated any longer.

If you are a target of any form of bullying;

  • Be proud of who you are. Why not try writing a list of everything that you feel is good about yourself and read it every time you feel hurt or upset by something someone has said or done. If bullying makes you angry, try putting that anger into exercise so that you look and feel better.
  • Very often a target has qualities we admire most.  They simply want to do a good job and get on with it.  They also have a high level of integrity and do not go running to the boss telling tales.  This is a source of jealousy for a bully who lacks self worth.  Some say a target is too kind, but this is a strength, not a weakness.  If you are a target, remember your values and stay strong.
  • Seek help from your boss, colleagues, friends, family or someone that you trust.
  • Try not to show your emotions to bullies. Bullies thrive off their victim’s reactions, if they see you angry or upset they may carry on. If you try and pretend the bullying doesn’t bother you they may get bored and move on.
  • Trying to change someone’s actions or personality is near impossible, so instead of trying to change the bully, sometimes it’s best to focus on how you might be able to change your reactions.
  • Keep a detailed record of everything the bully says and does, make note of times and dates and also who may have witnessed the incident. Make sure you don’t have the record at work, keep it at home or somewhere safe.
  • It is likely that the bully is not just picking on one person. Find the other victims of bullying and see what they can do to help stop the bullying.
  • Sometimes it’s a good idea to talk to the bully about how their behaviour is affecting you, they may not be aware of how it is making you feel but always make sure you have a third person who is neutral in on the conversation as a witness.  Never approach the conversation accusingly.

If you are a witness to bullying in the workplace;

  • Focus on the good things about the victim. Concentrate on giving them compliments and highlighting when they have done something well.
  • Don’t automatically confront the bully directly, try and speak to someone that the bully is friends with or perhaps a superior.
  • Always be there for the victim first, they will need your support. Ensure they know you are there for them but do not action anything if they have specifically told you not to. If they don’t give you permission, try and explain what the benefits may be for them.


Dr Lynda Shaw

Chartered Psychologist and Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine



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