What is workplace bullying?

Friends don’t let friends get bullied at work.

With so much gaslighting, fear, and confusion caused by bullies, those being bullied at work often don’t initially realise this is happening. By the time they do, confidence, self-esteem and self-worth are distant memories as panic, fear and stress take up residence.  (I was one of those people and I worked in Human Resources at the time).

We often think bullying ends in the playground, well, sadly it doesn’t. Workplace bullying is alive and well, affecting around 9.1 million Brits according to Agency Central . Furthermore, bullying isn’t even covered by employment law… huh?

Seriously? Yes! So what can we do about that and how does knowing this affect you?

The first of four blogs in the Healthy Transitions Out Of Workplace Bullying, gives you an HR insiders-view on what bullying is, how it affects you and your loved ones, why bullying is not covered by employment law, and the support available to you.

What is workplace bullying?

Quite often bullying is seen as a taboo subject, let’s start by challenging strong-held notions around being bullied and understand what bullying is.

According to ACAS: Bullying is behaviour from a person or group that’s unwanted and makes you feel uncomfortable, including feeling: frightened, less respected or put down, made fun of, upset.

Understanding bullying: Two types of bullies

In a recent podcast on ‘What is bullying?’ I was interviewed by Liza Collins, through our conversation we discussed ‘accidental bullies’ and ‘determined bullies’. Both Liza and I recognised that the ‘accidental’ bully will be mortified when you raise your concern with them, most likely taking action to make sure you never feel that way again.

The determined bully on the other hand, well this is the one you need to keep your friends and family safe from.

The determined bully is the person who is likely to make you feel that sinking-pit-in-the-tummy feeling on a Sunday night, making you yell out “I hate Mondays!” It’s the same person who belittles you and makes you feel small, ill, or any number of things.

Signs to look out for

Through personal experience and years of research, these are a few of the signs to look out for if you think you (or someone you love) is being bullied at work. Although there are many more, these are the most common nine signs to look out for:

  • Increased stress and decrease in general wellbeing e.g. withdrawing from everyday life
  • Feelings of being controlled and/or manipulated
  • Gas-lighting, deceit, being lied to or ignored on a regular basis
  • Being excluded from work activities, important meetings or information
  • Making you feel guilty, wrong or at fault, undermining your work
  • Continuously changing the goalposts, making unrealistic expectations of you
  • Taking credit for your work, making you feel useless and/or incompetent
  • Persistent borderline threats, offensive communications or banter going too far
  • Blocking advancement or growth in your role

Why is bullying so bad for you?

When being bullied, our brain tends to bypass rational thought and respond as if everything is a threat. I quite like the term Amygdala Hijacking. It’s like your brain goes into hyper-alert mode and warns you that everything is a threat. This in turn affects how you respond to events, comments and situations around you.

You’ll be so hyped-up all the time your sleep, diet and balance will be knocked off course. You’ll land up snapping at your family and taking out your stresses on them. This is stress in a nutshell (we look more closely at this in our next blog). Prolonged stress causes untold health problems including Post Traumatic Embitterment Disorder (PTED) and in severe cases Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Bullying and the law

So, if bullying is bad on so many levels, why is it not covered by law?

The short answer to that from ACAS is that is bullying becomes harassment when it is about any of the ‘protected characteristics’ in employment law. For example, age, gender, race, disability, religion or belief, gender reassignment, sex or sexual orientation. Harassment is therefore covered.

Even though bullying itself is not covered by the law, help is out there.

What kinds of help are out there?

Later in this series, I’ll be going deeper into the solutions available to you, giving you a clear Transition Plan outlining how to get yourself or someone you love out of a bullying situation and safely through the other side.

For now, though, if you are resonating with any of the signs listed above, or any other areas of this blog, start with asking for help. It takes courage to speak up for yourself, when you do support will come. If you struggle asking friends and family for help, start with one of these three routes:

  1. You can start by talking to your HR Team.

All good employers will have a dedicated HR representative to guide you through the in-house policies and procedures, be able to give you solid advice on what to do and what not to do (we’ll also cover these later in this series). Your HR team will have the telephone number of an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to refer you to. EAP’s are free, confidential support lines and very useful places to get independent help.

  1. Go external

If you’ve exhausted all avenues at work, try ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) which offers free and impartial advice via phone and email.

  1. Get dedicated help

Having a coach or mentor work with you helps balance all areas of your life and get’s that hijacked amygdala back to reason and logic. You’ll be wanting to know you have an impartial, dedicated resource to hand – your very own guide at your side allowing you to do you.

Read our upcoming blogs for even more support and insights.

Remember, friends don’t let friends get bullied. If you or someone you know is being bullied at work, get help. Don’t let a bad situation linger longer than necessary. Support is out there, whether it’s reading all the blogs in this series, listening to our podcast, or getting the support you need. Do something and do it now.

Positive change begins with you.

Three things you can do right now to help yourself:

  1. Leave a comment below with your thoughts, we’d love to hear from you.
  2. Want to know about having a guide at your side? Book a call with Cheryl-lya to see how she can help.
  3. Listen to the podcast here: https://anchor.fm/liza-collins/episodes/Episode-4—What-is-Bullying-with-Cheryl-lya-Broadfoot-e10r0dl
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