Bullying at work

Bullying isn’t something  that just happens in school – workplaces can be a hotbed of aggression, intimidation and general meanness.

Business manBullying in the workplace is actually incredibly common, but can be hard to identify and even harder to know how to deal with it.

In certain work environments, it can feel like just part of the game, like everyone slags each other off and you have to be tough and keep up.

But working somewhere where you’re being intimidated or threatened is not on. It can have a really negative effect on both your performance and your confidence.

What is workplace bullying?

Bullying at work often takes the form of psychological or social intimidation, like:

  • verbal abuse, insulting your work or you (including your family, sex, sexuality, race or culture, education or economic background)
  • excluding or isolating you from people or situations
  • psychological harassment (playing mind games, ganging up on you)
  • giving you pointless tasks that have nothing to do with your job
  • giving you impossible jobs that can’t be done in the given time or with the resources provided
  • deliberately changing your work roster to make it difficult for you
  • deliberately holding back information you need to get your work done properly.

This sort of thing isn’t always obvious to everyone else, but over time, it can really affect you. That’s not to say that there can’t be more obvious, physical bullying in work too. These cases include:

  • pushing, tripping, grabbing or any other type of direct physical contact
  • attacking or threatening
  • any form of sexual harassment, such as flashing or groping
  • initiation or hazing – where you’re made to do humiliating things in order to be accepted as part of the team.

This can happen, and can get pretty serious. Remember, physical assault and threatening behaviour just isn’t on – for starters, it’s against the law.

How it can affect your work

If you’re being bullied at work, it can have a major effect on your work and your confidence. You might:

  • be less productive
  • be less confident in your work
  • feel scared, stressed, anxious or depressed
  • have your life outside of work affected, eg study, relationships
  • want to stay away from work
  • feel unable to trust your employer or the people you work with
  • lack confidence and self-esteem in yourself and your work
  • have physical symptoms of stress such as headaches, backaches, sleep problems.

See bullying for more about the other effects.

Why it happens

As with bullying at school or anywhere else, people who bully other people at work often have low self-esteem or have been a victim of violence themselves.

They use bullying as a way of exerting power to make themselves feel better.

If you’re dealing with bullying, remember whoever’s doing it is probably using it as a way of dealing with their own problems and it isn’t because of anything you’ve done.

They could be  motivated by jealousy, lack of knowledge, fear or misunderstanding. That doesn’t make it ok.

Your rights in the workplace

No one deserves or asks to be bullied, no matter what. Everyone has the right to work in an environment free from bullying, harassment, discrimination and violence. It’s not too much to ask.

Employers and employees have duties by law (Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 ) to comply with any measures in place to promote health and safety within the workplace and not to put themselves or their colleagues at risk.

It’s worth keeping in mind that bullying is not the same as conflict. Disagreement and conflict happens, and you have to deal with that. You shouldn’t have to deal with aggression or intimidation.

What you can do

When you’re being intimidated or bullied by someone at work, it can feel as if your options are pretty limited.

You might want to avoid making a fuss, or think people will assume you’re making a big deal out of nothing.

If it’s a really macho or competitive environment, you might be worried it’ll seem like you’re not tough enough to handle it. You might also be worried about keeping your job.

But it shouldn’t go unchallenged. There are things you can do and people who can help.

  • Respond to the person calmly and firmly. Stand up straight, look them in the eye and be confident.
  • Find out exactly what your job description is and what your contract says. That way if they’re getting you to do stuff that goes beyond your remit, you can point it out completely factually.
  • Make sure you’re informed. Find out what the organisation’s policies and procedures are for preventing and handling bullying.
  • Keep a diary documenting everything that happens, including what you’ve done to try stopping it. This can help if you make a complaint.
  • Get external information and advice from bodies such as the union representing your industry, the Health and Safety Authority or the Equality Tribunal. These organisations can give you advice on your options and your rights.
    You can also ask them to act on your behalf if you don’t feel comfortable doing it. They should respect your confidentiality, though if you are concerned about this, ask them what their responsibilities are.
  • Tell someone. The person to talk to might be a Human Resource Manager. If there isn’t one you should report it directly to your employer, a supervisor/manager or health and safety representative (if your work has one).
    This situation might be able to be resolved informally, without any official complaint being made.
  • If the situation continues or is serious, you might need to make a formal (written) complaint that follows company policy. The person doing the bullying might be officially warned, and required to have counselling. If the bullying continues, there might be a mediation process. If all else fails, the person bullying might be fired.
  • If the bully is your employer or they don’t do anything to stop it, it’s important you get outside support and advice.

In all situations, whether it’s work or school or wherever, you should make sure you aren’t intimidating people, or ignoring the fact that someone else is being bullied.

More information

For more information about bullying, see what to do if you’re being bullied.


Comments Show all comments

  1. ReachOut.com says:

    Hi Mara,

    It sounds like you're having an awful time at work and we're sorry to hear this. No one deserves to be bullied or mistreated, especially not while at work. The bullying is probably more to do with your boss than you, but I know this doesn't necessarily help you.

    As it's your boss that's doing the bullying, I presume there's no one more senior within the organisation whom you could talk to? It would be worthwhile getting outside help if this is the case.

    You could contact Citizens Information on their helpline (0761 07 4000) and they may be able to give you advice or point you in the right direction for people who can advise you. Something like the Equality Tribunal may be worth looking into as well for advice on your rights and how to handle the situation.

    If you don't already, then do make sure you access support through your family and friends, speak to them about what's going on and let them know how you're feeling.

    It might also be worth getting support from a counsellor as they could help you work with what's going on and help you manage the situation with your employer. If you speak with your doctor you might be able to get a referral for an appointment with one through the health service. There are also private options available, and depending on where you are in the country there are different options regarding cost and availability. Mymind.org have centres and more affordable options than some private practitioners. Turn2Me offer online options for counselling and support, which might be something to look at.

    I hope some of this helps.
    All the best,

  2. mara says:

    Last year my manager asking me why curry sauce is not brown? I said I don't know but I didn't see the curry powder was mix .. he ask me again and why u didn't made another curry sauce? I said bcoz no time I was alone in shop and was busy in shop, he answer me back i don't want this answer, and he come into my eyes telling me: if I lost 27 costumers with this curry sauce u lost ur money, jesus I felt so bad cry inside me and after I went at home I cryed all night and I lived with this afraid inside me all week, thanks god he paid me.. and after days shouting again in front of costumers and reproched me the shop is dirty, and his girlfriend become nervous in shop telling me I don't work well calling me stupid today I don't know I'm not feel well I'm just feel sick I want to die really but I don't have courage to kill myself .. I don't know they are never happy with everything what I do.. I don't know why pick only on me I try to do my best I don't know what I have to do thanks for help mara

  3. roisin says:

    Hi Sello,

    It can be really frustrating to have your role changed without being consulted. What does your contract or role description say? If your duties have changed from what your original role description or contract has outlined or if you are unhappy with the changes it may be a good idea to talk to somebody about it. You could arrange to meet with your supervisor, Head of Department or someone from the Human Resources Department of your organisation. It's important that you are comfortable with the work that you are being asked to do and feel that it is what you originally agreed to. You never know there could be opportunities to have your role altered so that you can do more of the types of work you enjoy.
    Take care,

  4. sello mokoka says:

    my HOD has sent our supervisor to take away some of my job functions without informing or written notice. this was done verbally. what recouse do i have to get my job functions back.

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