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Why Is Office Bullying Getting Worse And How Can We Stop It?

by Pascale Day ,
Why Is Office Bullying Getting Worse And How Can We Stop It?© We Heart It

There’s an office bully in nearly every workplace. They bombard you with passive aggressive emails, leave mounds of work on your desk and try at least once a day to embarrass you in front of everyone. ACAS have said that workplace bullying is showing no signs of slowing down but why is that and what can we do to stop it? For anti-bullying week, we try to answer some of those questions.

ACAS, a conciliation site for employees and employers, has reported that over the last year it has received around 20,000 calls about harassment and bullying in the workplace. "Callers to our helpline have experienced some horrific incidents around bullying that have included humiliation, ostracism, verbal and physical abuse," the chair of ACAS, Sir Brendan Barber, told the BBC.

That number just correlates to those who decided to make the call. Really, there’s no knowing how many people are actually being bullied by co-workers or bosses. What is obvious is that it continues to be a serious problem in the workplace right now.

The problem is, it’s all too easy these days for bullies to bully people. Social media means that you can tap out a nasty tweet and send it to someone without even having to know how it’s going to affect the person in question. It requires such little thought, such little tact, that you can now ruin someone’s life whilst simultaneously watching Orange Is The New Black on Netflix. And speaking of television, shows like The Apprentice don’t help the cause. Is this how an apprenticeship should be? Encouraging cat fights and constant confrontations until your boss eventually jabs his finger in your humiliated face and tells you that you’re fired? It’s not a standard that should be perpetuated.

On top of all the social media madness there’s also a type of bullying that falls into the grey area of ‘banter’. The word ‘banter’ makes it immediately harder for people to report, because it takes demeaning and pejorative speech and turns it into a joke that you don’t get. If you get offended then you don’t understand it, you’re not a team player, you’re prudish.

This, of course, isn’t true. But, who do you have to turn to when the point comes that you want and need help to stop in-office bullying? The worrying thing is, managers are not always equipped with the skills to deal with workplace bullying. See, bullying in the office has many different guises: perhaps it’s a woman in a role typically reserved for men whose complaint is dismissed as a "clash in management styles", or the bullying of an LGBT employee being palmed off as a “difference in opinion”. There needs to be an ability to recognise bullying, an openness to helping others and a confidence that allows you to fairly scrutinise those who are victimising others.

But what about you: what can you do? Firstly, bullying reduces you to a target, so it’s important to remember that you are a person with feelings that you are entitled to. You have every right to report certain behaviour if you find it to be offensive. Next, you can speak to ACAS, who can give you advice on how to move forward with your complaint.

Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at mental health charity MIND, gives this advice: "being bullied by colleagues can be tremendously damaging to our self-esteem and overall wellbeing. Feeling victimised and fearful, day in day out while you are trying to do your job is an obvious path to unhappiness, and no workplace should take bullying lightly – not only does it undermine performance at work, but it can have repercussions for mental health. People can experience stress, depression and be signed off sick as a result of bullying. It can worsen an existing mental health problem or lead an employee to develop one.

"​If you feel you are being bullied at work, it's important that you raise the issue with your line manager, or if it is your line manager's behaviour that is upsetting you, raise it with HR. Their role is to try and work out what the situation is from both sides of the equation so you can come to some resolution. In some cases, it could be that the bully has no idea that their behaviour is abrasive or intimidating and a quiet word will help them to behave more appropriately, but when someone is actively singling you out, it's important that your workplace steps in to sort the problem out. Don't suffer in silence."

Also, our advice? After you've done everything you can do in the workplace, sometimes it just helps to just sit down with a friend outside of work and talk it out. Get some tea and cupcakes on the go, plonk yourselves on the sofa and say “girl, I’m not having a great time right now” - guaranteed you are not alone in what you’re going through. Getting it off your chest will work wonders for your mental health. Whatever you decide to do, please always know your worth. You are worth more, always.

Have you ever been bullied at work? How did you deal with it? Let us know: @sofeminineUK

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Pascale Day
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