New research has revealed that almost six in ten people have witnessed or suffered bullying in the workplace and more than two thirds of workers who witnessed bullying said their colleague was subjected to a sustained period of harassment with over half seeing workmates sworn at.
The survey of 2,000 men and women working in the UK was commissioned by employment law specialists Slater and Gordon who see hundreds of cases of employees being bullied every year. The report shows that tight deadlines, personality clashes and office politics often caused tensions to run high with more than 37 percent of those questioned saying they felt they had been bullied themselves and a further 21 percent admitting they have witnessed colleagues being subjected to abuse.
But while most people had witnessed or believed they had faced bullying in the workplace, less than half (48 percent) did anything about it.
Colleagues being deliberately humiliated by a bully was witnessed by more than a quarter of those questioned while one in ten had heard racist insults. One in six saw a co-worker subjected to inappropriate sexual remarks. Childish pranks were seen by 24 percent of those surveyed while one in 15 saw their colleague’s work being sabotaged.
One in 20 said they had witnessed physical violence between workmates.
The bullying was disguised as ‘workplace banter’ in 56 percent of cases while 68 percent said the behaviour was ‘subtle’, such as leaving a colleague out of work drinks, lunches and meetings. Four in ten workers who were bullied appeared stressed or upset by the behaviour while 21 percent were reduced to tears.
Claire Dawson, employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon, said: “Bullying in the workplace is all too common and comes in many forms.
“As our research shows the majority of bullying comes in the form of verbal abuse or intimidation. This is often dismissed as ‘banter’ between colleagues but the workplace shouldn’t be a place where people are insulted. The idea that people can be subjected to physical violence while at work is quite alarming. This can have a devastating impact on the person who is being bullied and can result in depression and anxiety.
“Our research shows that most people who witness bullying prefer to do nothing about it. They are concerned for their own positions and aren’t willing to put their necks on the line, especially when they don’t know how an employer will respond to the issue.
“Our advice to anybody being bullied would be to stand up and take action. You have to confront the bully, either directly or through HR or a manager, to let them know that what they are doing is unacceptable.”
Over half (52 percent) said they did nothing to stop the bullying with a third admitting they felt too awkward to say anything. A quarter thought bullying was just part of the culture of where they worked.
Twenty percent said they feared becoming the target of the bully themselves if they spoke out and one in ten thought they could lose their job if they complained. A quarter said they didn’t think it was their responsibility to do anything about it
Of those who were bullied 43 percent said they were intimidated and almost a third were humiliated in front of colleagues. Almost a quarter said they were shouted at and one in ten were excluded from staff social events. One in 20 had things thrown at them.
Four in ten said they thought the bullying they experienced was due to a personality clash and 28 percent believed it was because of office politics.
Claire Dawson added: “If speaking directly to the bully doesn’t work it’s important that the victim makes a diary of when the abuse took place and in what form. It can be key when raising it with your employer to have witnesses to corroborate your story.
“If you can’t resolve things informally the next step is usually to lodge a formal grievance and if that doesn’t work you may want to consider legal action. Before you decide that this is what you want to do contact our employment lawyers who will advise you about the best way forward with your case. You can also approach your union for support.”
Luke Roberts, an anti-bullying expert, said: “It’s shocking but not surprising that the research has found that almost six in ten people have witnessed or suffered bullying in the workplace. When somebody is bullied it’s a very personal thing and employers have a duty to recognise the problem if somebody complains.
“From a practical point of view it’s important for the employer to recognise that bullying has an impact on productivity and morale, not just on the bullying victim, but also on the workforce as a whole.
“Bullying is not just something that happens to children at school. Adults can be bullied too and many feel distress from being bullied in the workplace.”
James Marsh is an HR consultant and currently leads the editorial team at HRreview.
An avid HR blogger and tweeter on HR and management issues, James has worked as an HR manager, consultant, in-house recruiter and trainer and has expertise in both management strategy and HR policies and processes. He has a BA from the University of Nottingham in American Studies, a Masters in Human Resource Management from the University of Westminster and is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
James is also the regular chairperson of HRreview's series of webinars that discuss and debate the latest HR trends and issues, InsideHR.