workplace bullying

New research has shown that more than a third of employees feel they have been bullied at work, with more than 20 per cent admitting they have witnessed colleagues being bullied.

There is no doubt that bullying is a major issue, but the extent of bullying at work, and the impact which it can have on people and their lives, has perhaps been underestimated.

This was discussed on Radio Scotland with Giles Woolfson taking part, and many people phoned in with their stories. A number of common themes emerge:

  • People generally understand what bullying is when it relates to children and school: name calling; misuse of social media; playground bullying etc. However, there is a lack of understanding over what bullying actually means when it relates to adults in the workplace.
  • Workplace bullying can be very subtle. It can arise from an employee being excluded from events by their line manager or colleagues; unjustified criticisms being made in the presence of team members; work being sabotaged; unreasonable demands and timescales being set, with resulting “failures” being blamed on the employee.
  • On the other extreme, workplace bullying can also be very stark, and involve deliberate humiliation, shouting and even racial abuse: events which are often then denied.
  • The impact on the victims of bullying can be extreme, leading to very severe stress and anxiety, and illness. Often the matter is never resolved and the employee decides to resign, as there is no confidence that the employer will address the issue and deal with the bully.
  • Sometimes people don’t actually realise that what they are doing amounts to bullying behaviour, and there may be no malice involved. That is why training is so important, and why approaches such as mediation can be very helpful.


The first step is to ensure that an appropriate policy is in place to give employees an opportunity to raise concerns. At the very least employers need to have a grievance procedure. It is also helpful to have a policy specifically on bullying, which helps all staff to better understand what it is, the impact it can have and the steps which can be taken by employees if they feel they have been bullied or if they witness bullying.

Secondly, training is essential. One of the points made by Giles is that it’s all very well an employer having a policy which says all the right things, but if employees, and in particular management, are not given the appropriate training, then it is unlikely the policy will be effective. If managers understand what bullying is, recognise bullying when it happens, and understand when an employee is displaying signs that they may be being bullied, then matters are more likely to be resolved much sooner.

Informal approaches and alternative means of resolution, and in particular mediation, should be considered where appropriate. The benefit of mediation is that it takes place with an independent third party and is entirely confidential, so you find that employees will be more willing to speak openly with each other. Mediation can lead to apologies being given and behaviour changing, and can transform a working relationship.

Please follow this link to hear the The Kaye Adams Programme in which Giles contributes: Radio Scotland

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