Standing up to bullies

BULLYING is not something that stays solely within the confines of the schoolyard — it can just as easily creep into the workplace. It can be a hugely stressful experience, causing a lot of damage to both the employee and the employer.

Recent studies carried out on the area of bullying at work suggest between seven and 15pc of employees perceive they are the target of inappropriate behaviour occurring during the course of their job.

If it’s not resolved swiftly and sensitively, bullying can impact the general well-being of the person(s) affected. It also has a knock-on effect for co-workers who are witnessing the bullying. In extreme cases, it can have a financial implication for the employer.

Organisational psychologist with the Health & Safety Authority (HSA) Patricia Murray defines bullying as a series of behaviour that is inappropriate, repeated over time and undermining a person’s dignity at work.

Bullying, she says, is not a once-off incident but is a more sinister situation because it is ongoing and is repeated. “It is when you are constantly being put down by the same person and it is going on for months. The bully has an agenda and will target the person from every different angle.”

Bullying is very hard to identify, she says, as there is such a legal complexity surrounding this area. “It has to be ongoing and considered inappropriate, and someone has to make a judgment on this. What one person would consider bullying, another person would not.”

If an employee feels they are being bullied at work, the first thing Murray advises them to do is take a step back and try to objectively assess the situation. She also says the employee should look at what has been said, considering if the person meant it intentionally or whether they could have meant something other than what has been interpreted.

“You can think you are being bullied because you are hurt and offended, so you’ve got to take any emotion out of it. Talk to someone outside of work about it and listen to their reaction. If, thereafter, you still believe you are being targeted, go and talk to the person and outline a number of instances where you felt inappropriately treated by them. If talking to them face to face is too difficult, maybe write them a note explaining how you feel. If you don’t feel satisfied after that, then go to someone in authority and state what has been happening.”

There can be serious fallout from instances of workplace bullying, with Murray citing mild stress-related illness, absenteeism and mental breakdowns occurring in extreme cases.

In some situations, those who have been accused of this behaviour are stunned at the allegation and were entirely unaware of the effect they were having on their co-worker, she says. “They could have been acting inappropriately, but might not have really known it.”

Murray says organisations have a responsibility to identify what constitutes bullying and to put in place corrective measures.

“To try and make sure this doesn’t happen in the first place, employers should ensure a code of practice is in place in the workplace.”


Richard Reid is the founder of Pinnacle Proactive, Specialising in the Employee Assistance ProgramStress ManagementStaff Retention & Absenteeism. Take a Proactive Approach to Growing Your Organisation & its People. For more info visit


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