Bullying at work

While bullying may make you think of the school playground, experiencing it is anything but childish. When you’re forced to face your tormenter everyday at work it can be seriously exhausting. It might even get to the point where you’re considering quitting. We totally get it. But before you hand in your resignation, read our advice for what to do if you're being bullied at work.

Two young women are talking. One is dealing with bullying at work. This is a wide-angle image.

Bullying at work is a gradual process that wears the victim down, and makes them feel worthless. This can be both in terms of their work as well as their personal life. Sometimes the bully can be one individual, but it can also come from a group. In the worst case scenario, bullying may just be a part of the company’s culture. Regardless of where it comes from, bullying and harassment at work is always wrong. 

What is bullying at work in the UK?

The Andrea Adams Trust, the national charity against workplace bullying, defines bullying at work as:

  • Unnecessary, humiliating behaviour towards an individual or a group of employees either through social media or in person.
  • Persistent offensive, intimidating and/or malicious attacks on personal or professional performance carried out for a negative purpose or effect. These are often unpredictable and unfair or irrational.
  • An abuse of power or position that can cause anxiety and distress, or physical ill health.
  • If someone has taken away your dignity or created an intimidating, hostile atmosphere where people are scared to speak up.

Bullying at work in the UK can be overt, such as physical violence or shouting and swearing, or subtler. For example, ignoring someone, giving them impossible tasks or encouraging malicious gossip about them. And it doesn’t matter if you’re the hardest-working person in your team; in fact, that may even make you the target of a jealous person.

Employees usually put up with bullying in the workplace because they’re afraid of losing their jobs. They might also keep quiet due to a threat from the bully, or because they think it’ll escalate the situation.

If you’re experiencing bullying at work due to your sexual orientation, race, gender identity or a disability, this is considered discrimination. In fact, it’s actually illegal under the Equality Act 2010; you should report it to line managers, or whoever has the authority to help you, as soon as you feel ready. Read our article about discrimination at work for more advice.

What to do about workplace bullying

  1. Deflect the bully if you can. Remain calm, stand firm, and try to appear confident. Keep a detailed record of every incident; you’ll need it as proof if you decide to make a complaint.
  2. Check your job description. If you suddenly find yourself being set menial tasks, or are given an increased workload with shorter deadlines, that might be a red flag. You can go to senior management and complain if the work you’re being asked to do isn’t part of your contract.
  3. Try to get witnesses for any bullying incidents. That way you can have solid proof, if you need it, and avoid situations where you are alone with the bully.
  4. Get advice from your trade union, from human resources or health and safety officers at work. Does your employer have a policy on harassment at work? If so, what is it? How do filing a complaint?
  5. Take a stress management course, and do some assertiveness training. They’re good for your general health, and will help you in the future. Plus they’ll help you feel like you’re taking control of the situation.

Pursuing the complaint…

  1. If you go ahead with a complaint, choose your words carefully. State the facts clearly – don’t just tear down your coworker’s character (as tempting as it might be). You could be accused of malicious behaviour.
  2. Get emotional support from your family and friends. Let them know what’s going on and how you’re truly feeling about it. You could also ask your GP about counselling and even take sick leave if you need it.
  3. If you decide to leave your job because of the bullying, let your company know exactly why you’re resigning. It may help others in the future. You could even suggest that the company should start taking steps to prevent anything like this from happening again. For more support from us, see our article on how to resign here, and our ‘leaving a job’ resources here.
  4. If you want to pursue a legal claim against your employer, you’ll need to get some professional advice. Start by taking advice from your union. If you have a good case, they’ll probably take it up on your behalf.
  5. Once you start looking at taking legal action, you have options to consider. These include an industrial employment tribunal, civil claims for personal injury, and sometimes even criminal action.

More help with workplace bullying

Here’s some links that might be useful if you, or someone you know, are experiencing bullying in the workplace: 

  • No-one deserves to experience bullying in the workplace. If you’re in crisis, The Mix is here to help. Our Crisis Messenger provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you’re aged 25 or under, you can text THEMIX to 85258
  • You might also like to read our expert answer on how to deal with a bully boss here. 
  • You could also share your experience of workplace bullying on our discussion boards. Opening up about it is the first step towards putting an end to it.
  • Acas can also help. They offer free advice about everything to do with employment law, you can call them on 0300 123 1100.
  • BullyingUK offers advice and support to victims of bullying. Call them on 0808 800 2222.

Next Steps

  • Our Crisis Messenger provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you’re aged 25 or under, you can text THEMIX to 85258
  • Acas offers free advice about everything to do with employment law. 0300 123 1100
  • BullyingUK offers advice and support to victims of bullying. Call on 0808 800 2222.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.


work stress

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 29-Jan-2022