The Workplace Bullying Toolkit

Workplace Bullying Toolkit

Why The Workplace Bullying Toolkit?

When we’re talking about optimising performance we’re often asked by clients about how to manage workplace bullying. The truth is, bullying impacts everyone in an organisation. It lowers performance and productivity. Bullying demotivates teams and individuals increasing staff turnover. It also contributes to what the World Health Organisation has described as an epidemic of workplace stress and burnout.

Bullying is something that we avoid talking about. It involves difficult conversations when emotions are elevated. Typically, we just don’t feel that we’ve got the skills to address it. It doesn’t have to be that way. We’ve created the Workplace Bullying Toolkit to

  • Increase your knowledge about what bullying is
  • Develop your confidence so that you have the skills to deal with bullying
  • Make addressing and managing bullying easier
  • Highlight the negative impact that bullying has on the success of an organisation
  • Provide the tools and inspiration to speak out and stand up for yourself when it feels impossible

This toolkit provides advice about what bullying at work can look like, what to do if you think you are being bullied, or are accused of being a bully. We all have a role in addressing workplace bullying and contributing to dignity at work. Here’s how.

The Bullying at Work Toolkit

What is Workplace Bullying?

Bullying and harassment is behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended.

Examples of bullying or harassing behaviour include:

  • Spreading malicious rumours
  • Belittling, being ridiculed, teased or made fun of
  • Public criticism
  • Verbal abuse
  • Abuse that singles someone out because of their appearance, weight, accent etc
  • You are excluded from meetings or events
  • Unfair treatment
  • Being given peripheral tasks that prevent you from completing your work
  • Excluding others
  • Taking credit for the work of others
  • Picking on or regularly undermining someone
  • Denying someone’s training or promotion opportunities
  • It can be carried out by one or more persons
  • Bullying may be directed at a single person or a group
  • It may occur outside normal work hours.

Bullying is not against the law (it’s still wrong) but harassment is. Harassment is when the unwanted behaviour is related to one of the following:

  • age
  • sex
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sexual orientation

Bullying and harassment can happen:

  • anywhere…..
  • face-to-face
  • by letter
  • by email
  • by phone

To summarise, Acas characterises bullying as ‘offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient‘.

Am I being Bullied?

Bullying can happen at all levels of a business or organisation. The chances are that if you feel you’re being bullied, you probably are. Bullying isn’t confined to managers bullying staff or staff targeting managers. It also happens between co-workers, and other people involved in workplaces, for example as clients, customers or visitors.

Bullying can occur when behaviour is allowed to take place that offends, unduly stresses or unreasonably burdens workers without concern for their well-being.

Bullying Is Bad For Business

Bullying isn’t simply about hurt feelings. It’s unacceptable behaviour that lowers self esteem, demotivating people. It increases absenteeism along with workplace related stress and burnout. The Whitehall II Study has been researching workplace behaviours for over thirty years. It discovered that toxic relationships can

  • decrease wellbeing
  • lower immunity
  • increase the risk of a cardiac event (including cardiac related fatalities)

National Campaigns like Civility Saves Lives in the NHS recognise the toxic impact that bullying and a culture of humiliation and blame have on individual performance. In fact, research has consistently demonstrated that within the NHS, where there is bullying, clinical outcomes are poorer. Error rates are also seen to increase. That’s a high price to pay for behaviours that can and should be addressed.

The Impact of Bullying on Business

Researchers at the University of Helsinki Department of Public Health found that bullying has a negative impact on everyone. Their results show that victims of bullying along with those who witness it are more likely to receive a prescription for psychotropic medications such as anti depressants and sleeping pills.

Think that bullying is an individual problem? Not so. Bullying creates a toxic environment that will

  • Create a toxic, unproductive environment
  • Reduce emotional bandwidth by 61%
  • See people withdraw their time and effort
  • Encourage counter productive work behaviours
  • Increase the likelihood of absenteeism
  • Decrease productivity
  • Increase staff turnover (whilst increasing recruitment & training costs)
  • Reduce employee engagement
  • Decrease staff loyalty
  • Unaddressed, leave organisations open to costly, legal issues​ that damage their brand and reputation

Bullying impacts our performance, our wellbeing and the bottom line.

Why Do People Bully?

Bullying can be multi factorial. Statistically bosses are more likely to bully – but not always. Bullying can come from anywhere. It can arise when

  • The bully has poor self regulation
  • The bully intentionally want to cause harm or finds the the act of bullying enjoyable
  • They envy of the target’s strengths and skills
  • The bully perceives the other person as a threat in some way
  • A need to control
  • You’ve been singled out because you are good at what you do or are popular with others (we know, it’s cold comfort)
  • The bully may perceive the target as vulnerable in some way e.g. a new employee
  • The bully can single someone out based on gender, age, ethnicity, disability or religion. This is considered harassment and is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.

Sustainable Performance & Civility

Research by Christine Porath and Gretchen Spreitzer, Professors at Ross School of Business’s Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship identified four factors necessary for sustainable high performance

  • Civility
  • Feedback
  • Information Sharing
  • Autonomy

When incivilty (including bullying) was present, the researchers discovered that the costs were enormous.

“In our research with Christine Pearson, a professor at Thunderbird School of Global Management, we discovered that half of employees who had experienced uncivil behaviour at work intentionally decreased their efforts. More than a third deliberately decreased the quality of their work. Two-thirds spent a lot of time avoiding the offender, and about the same number said their performance had declined.

We talk about this on our leadership courses along with the importance of civility on performance. If you want happy, motivated, high performing individuals and teams – civility is critical. The truth is, as an organisation you can’t afford not to address workplace bullying.

Bullying is Bad for Everyone

Whichever industry or profession you work in, bullying can lead to you experiencing the following;

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Disruption in sleeping patterns
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Ulcers

It’s possible that you’ll also notice

  • Impaired decision making
  • Lack of confidence
  • Loss of focus
  • Impaired clarity of thinking
  • Decrease in your self esteem
  • Lowered productivity
  • A sense of isolation

It’s not your fault and there is something that you can do about it. Talking to someone is the beginning of tackling bullying. It’s important to speak out as soon as you feel able to.

Shouldn’t We Just Toughen Up?

Sometimes organisations can get caught up in a culture of command and control where they believe that to be effective, people need to be tough. This type of punitive approach is the least effective leadership style. It’s fixed mindset and creates a blame culture where employees at every level avoid innovation, fear failure and begin to shut down. The result is poor performance and stagnation.

It’s important to recognise that this style of leadership and management is outdated and ineffective. Even if you don’t manage anyone but you find yourself exhibiting any of these behaviours, it’s time to stop, reflect and consider how you are damaging everyone (including yourself and your reputation at work).

How to Change Bullying Behaviour

Why psychological safety is critical for high performing teams

Whether you’re someone experiencing bullying, someone who has been accused of bullying, or an organisation that wants to adopt a growth mindset and anti bullying approach it’s important to know how. Learning to move away from these behaviours is a skill that you can develop. Take a look at the Free Growth Mindset Toolkit to discover more. It’s time to collectively make your team, department and business a no bullying zone. Building trust and support benefits everyone.

The Fear Of Speaking Up

We know that speaking up can feel overwhelming. If you’re being bullied you may fear that speaking up will make the situation worse. It takes courage, but finding someone that you trust to speak with, can be the first step to feeling more in control. Research from Ohio State University, published in Personnel Psychology, discovered that confronting a hostile colleague can help you to feel better about the situation. Researcher, Bennett Tepper, stated that employees feel that they have more agency when they do this.

The World Health Organisation has now classified burnout as an illness. We take a look at how to overcome the burnout epidemic.

What Should I do?

If you’re experiencing bullying at work, it’s important to take action. If you feel able to, talk to the person responsible and let them know that you find their behaviour upsetting, inappropriate or offensive. How?

    • Don’t Blame Yourself. Recognise that you are being bullied. The bullying does not define you.
    • Take steps to Look After Yourself. Whatever decision you make about how to approach the bullying, it’s crucial that you look after yourself. Remember to maintain your support networks both at work and at home.
    • Speak Out. Bullying relies upon you being passive. Decide what you want to say and approach the conversation in a calm and assertive attitude. You’re aiming to be assertive, not aggressive. For more on how to be more assertive check out our series of guides. The simple act of saying something can disrupt the dynamic of bullying and will sometimes be enough to stop it (but not always).
    • Keep it Evidence Based. When addressing the unacceptable behaviour, give specific examples of how and why it is inappropriate. It is worth remembering that even though you do this, the bully may attempt to deflect their behaviour or fail to recognise it as bullying. It can help to explain the impact that their behaviour has on you.
    • Be confident. Remain calm, breath slowly and deliberately (this will help you to manage the physiological effects of stress). Use some of our strategies to dial down your stress levels in advance. Be mindful of your body language. Remember to maintain eye contact, keeping your non verbal communication open. Don’t forget to regulate the tone and volume of your voice.
    • Focus on what you can control (not what you can’t). You cannot control the other persons response. You can, however, control how you respond to them. Prepare yourself before the conversation, check in and see how you are feeling, is it the right time for you to approach the conversation? If you’re angry, save it for a time when you feel more in control. If you need some tips on how to begin the conversation, take a look at our blog on how to say what you mean without going nuclear.
    • Focus on Your Successes. It’s easy to feel demotivated and lose self esteem when you’re on the receiving end of bullying. Don’t allow someone else’s behaviour to side track you at work or affect your self esteem. Keep a record of your successes and remember to savour what’s going well for you. Take a look at our Free Resilience Toolkit to build your resilience and focus on your confidence. Bullying is not a reflection of who you are.
    • Know when to seek help. If you’re feeling anxious just thinking about a conversation with the bully, it’s ok (we get it). If a conversation isn’t a realistic option speak to your manager or go directly to HR. There are people who are professionally trained to manage the situation in a safe and supportive way.
When you decide to have the conversation with HR, it’s important to create an audit trail.
  • Record exactly what has happened. Keep it evidence based e.g. “On Tuesday I was working at my desk when my manager walked up to me and shouted at me in front of the rest of the team”
  • Talk to someone you trust
  • Read your organisation’s bullying policies and procedures.
  • Remain calm and prioritise your wellbeing. Being bullied is stressful and it’s important that you take time for self care.
  • Keep an ongoing record of events
  • Don’t remain silent
  • Consider contacting your employee assistance program for support and or counselling (it’s free and confidential)
  • If you’ve done all of the above and nothing has changed (it can happen in some organisational cultures) it may be time to speak to your union representative (if you’re in one). If you’re not, contact ACAS or seek legal advice. You may also decide that an organisational culture that tolerates bullying is one that you just don’t want to be part of any more. Whatever your decision, remember your wellbeing is a priority and take care of yourself.

You’re Not Alone

We know that experiencing bullying can leave you feeling isolated, anxious and alone. It’s important to recognise that unfortunately, workplace bullying is common – between 30 – 40% of us will experience it at some point in our working lives. You’re not alone – just knowing that can be helpful. Sometimes it helps to share. We’ve curated a selection of some inspiring videos about bullying, destructive workplace culture and standing up for yourself when it feels impossible.

Workplace Bullying Videos

Sherry Benson Podolchuk –  How I survived workplace bullying

Joanne Simon-Walters – Leadership in Eliminating Workplace Bullying

How I didn’t become a victim to bullying – Caroline Dean

Bullying and Corporate Psychopaths at Work: Clive Boddy

Poet Shane Koyczan on Bullying


Andrew Soloman – How the worst moments in life make us who we are

Scilla Elworthy on how to deal with a bully without becoming a thug

How to start changing an unhealthy work environment – Glenn D. Rolfsen

When rudeness in teams turns deadly – Chris Turner

Want to know more about workplace bullying, managing bullying, developing assertiveness, personal change, and maintaining high performance? Take a look at our Free Building Resilience Toolkit or any of our Free tools in the resources section.

We work with individuals, leaders and Fortune 100 companies to improve performance, build resilience and embed sustainable high performance in teams. We provide training courses, coaching and consultancy. Want to know more? Get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.