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. Naoise says:

    Hello Mara
    This sounds like a really difficult situation to be in and we're sorry to hear how difficult the environment at work is. It sounds like it might be quite a small staff too and so hard to stay out of the way of someone who wants to make trouble. The one thing to remember is it doesn't sound like what is happening is because of anything you have done so do try to not personalise any of the poor behaviour, even if it is directed at you, you didn't cause it.

    People can take advantage of their positions of authority, and unfortunately it's quite common. But having to deal with their partners as well is more than you should have to deal with. You should not have to deal with this. Is it possible to talk to anyone else at work about it? It sounds like others are effected to, could you get together and talk to the owner possibly. It is a case of it being bad for business so should be open to hearing this and doing something about it.

    You do need to look after yourself too, and stress like this can make us feel tired or even sick, so protect yourself. To do this, it may be a case of having to look for another job. This is not easy these days but jobs are not worth making yourself sick over. You do need to work out what is best for you though and that may not suit.

    Best of luck with this tricky situation
    Take care

  2. mara says:

    Hi, since my manager come in this shop I just cry and cry he used shouting of me in front of costumers and every day find a reason to reproach me for everything and brought his girlfriend to work in shop and this girl is not quiet at all in my work place she called me stupid in my break time telling me she work more then everyone else here last year she shout to my colleague and my colleague went at home didn't come back at work for 5 days, after that ok she apologised to me we shake the hands but still is not quiet yesterday she shout twice to my manager and I'm feel very very bad I swear I'm sick to b at work and c them and c more her how she shout and slamming the stuff in front of my manager and me, the problem is that he leave her to shout I swear if the ground was opening in that time I was jumping immediately.. she cause troubles her behaviour is not nice at all in front of staff and costumers, today I have to come back to work and u don't have idea how I'm feel I didn't sleep all night just thinking and thinking at this situation believe me is not nice, hate to b at work and I luv my job I'm dedicate to my job I just hate to b there
    :(( :(( it is so so sad and I have to sai more but I stop here believe me physically I'm feel so tired :(( thanx very much

  3. Thomas (admin) says:

    Hi KD,

    It sounds like you're having a really stressful time at work.

    Firstly, is there any kind of HR team or manager in your workplace? Somebody whom you can talk to in a professional capacity about what's going on? It's your employer's responsibility to ensure that you are not harassed in the workplace, although I know it can be difficult to approach someone about such issues, depending on the workplace politics. However, trying to deal with the issue internally and in as calm a manner as possible is the best way to start.

    Your employer is required to have a policy on bullying, so you could ask for that - and that might make it easier to take the right internal steps to sorting things out.

    The Health and Safety Authority of Ireland have information on what to do if you feel you are being bullied. They give advice on how to approach the person you're having a hard time with as well as how to talk to someone in HR if that's necessary.

    You can also contact them and they will anonymously ask your employer for their work-place policy (and they'll send you a copy) so you then know what steps you might be able to take.

    Citizens information also have information as well as anonymous, free advice available on the phone should you wish to talk with someone directly (0761 07 4000).

    Maybe read up on the information these organisations have, and contact them if necessary. The more information you have, the easier it will be to tackle this situation.

    Just as importantly, make sure you're talking to friends and family about what's going on. While they might not be able to help you directly, their ongoing support will make it easier to handle everything.

    Try not to let what's going on take over all your spare time and thoughts. While this is very difficult, do try to relax and take the time to look after yourself. For example, Exercise can be hugely beneficial in helping to mind your mental health while something very stressful is going on.

    I hope some of this helps. Best of luck with resolving the issue.


  4. kd says:

    Hi I'm at a complete lost I've been in my company just over 1 year in that year I've been promoted twice and I'm now supervisor but I'm having terrible trouble with my manager if I do the slightest thing wrong she's on my case and some of the stuff she tells me off for is ridiculous she questions staff over what I've done on her days off and most the staff don't follow instruction from me I feel this is because of her speaking to them about me and telling me off in front of them I'm on probation as I only started as supervisor a couple months ago and she's threatened to sack me if I make one mistake she leaves huge lists of tasks on her days off and expects me to leave nothing for her she gets in strops with me and I'm afraid to talk to her about it because she really intimidates me and makes me question my abilities I've never had a problem with previous employers and have been rehired by previous employers in the past also she used to always talk to me about the previous 2 people who where supervisor before me about how they where terrible at their job and I know she's going to be telling the staff the same as me we used to get along until I'm in a senior position I'm scared I'll lose my job and I can't sleep I'm so afraid to approach her about it

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