When most people think of bullying, they think of the school playground. But adult bullying is all too common, especially in the workplace. Since the recession, for instance, workplace bullying is thought to have increased.

A recent survey by One Poll suggests one in three people has suffered from some form of bullying at work, with one in 10 of those affected having left their job because of it.

There are many different forms of bullying – face-to-face or via written communications, email, social websites or phone – some of which may not seem obvious to many people. According to the employment advisory and arbitration service ACAS, bullying at work includes the following:

  • Unfair treatment, exclusion or victimisation.
  • Ridiculing or demeaning someone, such as picking on them or setting them up to fail.
  • Spreading malicious rumours or insulting someone, particularly on the grounds of age, race, sex, disability, sexual orientation and religion or belief.
  • Overbearing supervision or other misuse of power or position.
  • Unwelcome sexual advances such as touching, standing too close, the display of offensive materials or making decisions on the basis of sexual advances being accepted or rejected.
  • Deliberately undermining a competent worker by overloading and constant criticism.
  • Preventing individuals progressing by intentionally blocking promotion or training opportunities.

If you – or a colleague you work with – is being bullied, here are some of the things you can do:

Talk about it

Speak to someone who may be able to help, such as someone in your human resources department, your union representative or a health and safety officer. Find out what your rights are in respect to workplace bullying and if your employer has an anti-bullying or anti-harassment policy – once you know more about where you stand, you can decide what to do next.

Also talk to your friends and work colleagues about what's been happening to you. You may find that you're not the only person who's being bullied. At the very least, talking to others about what's happening will help to make you feel less isolated.

See your GP

People who are being bullied can suffer from a range of health issues, including headaches, anxiety and poor sleep. If you think your health is suffering because you're being bullied at work, don't ignore it. Talk to your GP about it.

Keep a record

Write down all the bullying incidents that happen to you, including when they happen and who is involved. If you decide to take things further by starting a formal complaints procedure, for instance, this information will be very important.

Get assertive

According to the mental health charity Mind, learning some basic self-assertiveness skills can make you feel better about yourself if you're being bullied. Ask your employer if there are any assertiveness training courses provided at your workplace, or look for courses you can do yourself online.

Go direct

Depending on the situation you may want to avoid being alone with the person who's bullying you. But if you feel you can cope with it, talk to them direct – or ask someone you trust to talk to them for you – and tell them how their behaviour has affected you. Decide exactly what you're going to say before you speak to them, as it could help you stay calm. You may even discover that your bully has no idea how much their actions have been distressing you.

Make a formal complaint

On the other hand you may feel making a formal complaint is the only way forward. Find out if your employer has a complaints procedure in place, which should tell you who exactly you should make the complaint to and how it will be dealt with.

© CABA 2013

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