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Bullying – A Serious Workplace Issue

Bullying – A Serious Workplace Issue
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Managing Director

Many of us were bullied at school and there's much talk in the news of this being an ever-escalating problem. Bullying is also a problem in the workplace and, with the law behind us, as HR professionals, it's up to us to take control of this behaviour and ensure the wellbeing of our staff. In this article, I take a look at bullying in the workplace, what it is, the extent of it, and what HR can do about it.

15th – 19th November 2021 is anti-bullying week and there’s a lot of talk about school children and what can be done to prevent bullying in schools. However, bullying is not only an issue that affects school children: it’s also a concern in the workplace too, one which if not resolved, can have far-reaching consequences.


What constitutes bullying? The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas ), defines bullying as ’offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient’.

Here’s the surprising thing: bullying isn’t classed as illegal under the Equality Act 2010 however, harassment is. It can be problematic to draw the line between behaviours classified as ‘harassment’ and those falling under the term ‘bullying’. Whilst bullying behaviour tends to be less obvious and more akin to psychological warfare, harassment is usually quite direct and obvious and therefore easier to prove. The insidious nature of bullying tactics though can be even more devastating.

The Acas helpline receives over 20,000 calls annually about bullying and harassing behaviour. Here are some common examples:

  • Physical intimidation
  • Physical abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Sabotaging work
  • Deliberately withholding information with a view to getting someone in trouble or making them look incompetent
  • Playing jokes designed to embarrass or humiliate
  • Lying / spreading rumours
  • Cyberbullying – using electronic devices to perpetuate or augment the above behaviours


Now let’s look at some statistics.

  • Over 23% of people in the UK feel they’ve been a victim of bullying in the workplace *
  • A further 25% of workers feel they have been a victim of passive bullying by being deliberately left out *
  • Over 25% of employees feel their employers ‘turn a blind eye’ to workplace bullying **
  • 22% of people who reported bullying to the HR team felt it was not dealt with
  • Only 11% of people said the situation improved after reporting bullying

Far from being innocuous school-ground behaviour, the impact of bullying is far-reaching. Managers can expect a high turnover of staff, lower productivity, increased absences, and sick days. Victims can suffer lower self-esteem, increased stress, be at a higher risk for heart attack and Type 2 Diabetes, as well as potentially, in worst-case scenarios, suicide.


This is not a situation where workers should be expected to ‘put on their big girl/boy pants’ and get on with it, HR departments have a legal responsibility to take bullying seriously and deal with it quickly and effectively. Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, all employers have a legal duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees, and protection from bullying falls into this category. Failure to comply can see employers facing tribunals from affected employees. There are well-documented and publicised cases where employees have successfully taken their employers to tribunals for bullying behaviours such as being left out of Pizza Friday . That particular instance cost the employer over £23,000. Then there is the reputational damage of being found guilty of not taking bullying seriously, as Yorkshire County Cricket Club is so publicly discovering.


As an HR professional responsible for the welfare of staff, how do you root out bullying? Due to the subtle nature of bullying, it can be tricky to spot the signs unless the victim or a watchful bystander intervenes and reports the matter to you. There are tell-tale signs to look out for:

  • A change in a staff member’s behaviour, where they become quieter and withdrawn or start ‘acting out’
  • Someone consistently leaving the room or backing away from another member of the team
  • Increased number of sick days
  • Decrease in productivity or a lower standard of work
  • Erratic behaviour such as taking longer lunch breaks, bursting into tears, or yelling at other team members


If you’re having an issue with bullying in the workplace and need professional HR support, we’re here to help. I am Jason Perry , founder and Managing Director of ASL Recruitment, a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and an HR Specialist. I have advised and assisted many companies with their HR challenges over my 25 years in the employment sector. Also, on-board is Kimberly Bradshaw , an HR Specialist with over 30 years of HR experience and an MSc in Organisational Behaviour.


Why not join our weekly online HR Forum ? It’s a free session open to business owners and HR Managers looking to get advice, share experiences and ideas and receive some help with challenges. The HR Forum takes place on a Wednesday at 2 pm and once per month, we have a representative from Moore Barlow LLP to specifically answer questions you may have relating to Employment Law. In addition, every Thursday at 10 am, Kimberly and I host a 10-minute YouTube session live, HR in 10 , giving you a rundown of the important things that have happened in HR that week. You can find details of all our upcoming events here .


ASL Recruitment was established in 1999 and has been serving Hastings and the surrounding area ever since placing temporary and permanent roles across a variety of sectors including Industrial and Manufacturing, Legal, Finance, Marketing, Technology and Office Support, from junior up to board level. Our co-founder and Managing Director, Jason Perry is an HR specialist and a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. For further information on our recruitment or consultancy services, email  [email protected] or call us on 01424 452999.


Further information on bullying can be found on the CIPD website .


  • * Kew Law, Employment Law Specialists
  • ** Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development