The Impact Of Bullying At Work

Written by Chloe Hall

At work, we all face pressures from looming deadlines to worries about hitting targets, to staff performance. These pressures can cause stress, which isn’t always handled in the best way.

Managers are trained to be supportive of their team, but sometimes things go awry, and disputes can lead to rudeness, and generate an unpleasant or even hostile atmosphere.

This, in turn, can lead to bullying. Bullying can make team members feel undervalued or even unwelcome at work. The negative impact on self-esteem, confidence, and performance can be significant.

How do bullies operate?


Bullies often operate through suggestion. They can start a rumour and then leave it for others to escalate.

Spreading rumours about a colleague feels very hurtful. The victim can quickly feel isolated and inadequate, especially as the bully can operate through word of mouth, without any way of things being confirmed. This can leave the victim feeling especially exposed in informal situations, or worried about how they’ll be perceived by managers.

Making someone feel ignored

Sometimes a colleague can feel that their contribution and work ethic are being deliberately ignored, even though they are working efficiently and appropriately. Unsurprisingly, this is hugely demoralising for the victim.

Once someone feels unappreciated at work, they can become less motivated and less productive, so bullying can have a direct impact on how a business operates. Workplaces that have a bullying problem frequently have higher turnover than other businesses.

Hindering promotion or training

Another way in which workplace bullies operate, is to restrict a colleague’s access to promotion opportunities or to training which may improve their promotion chances.

This type of unfair treatment may initially seem quite subtle. During appraisal time this could be presented as unfortunate timing, or there being other, more appropriate candidates for promotion.


Working life can also be made more challenging by deliberately overburdening staff with additional tasks and responsibilities. Again, this can begin in seemingly innocuous ways, for example, minute taking at a one-off meeting can become a permanent task. Likewise, standing in to cover for staff absence can lead to temporary extra responsibilities becoming permanent.

However, these extra tasks can go unacknowledged. It is all too easy to be seen as somebody who thrives on the pressure that comes with a heavy workload.

Unfortunately, there is a fine line between efficiency at work and simply feeling swamped, a situation which necessitates cutting corners or investing extra time and energy to ensure that deadlines are met. This can easily lead to resentment, without the option of these extra tasks being delegated to someone else.

The signs of bullying on team members can vary. They may appear less positive, less communicative, and less creative. They may be visually anxious or depressed.

Who does a workplace bully target?

It is important to remember that bullies do not necessary pick on a colleague who might appear to be vulnerable. A bully may target somebody who seems like a professional threat or a rival.

On occasion it is a colleague’s working strengths which can seem intimidating to a bully, who then reacts against them and attempts to undermine them.   

What should you do if you feel bullied?

Speak to a manager

Although it might seem daunting, it is a good idea to speak about your experience to somebody you trust at work. It could be a colleague or a manager. You may go on to discover that this is not just happening to you.

Formal advice about harassment is also available from supervisors and trades union representatives. If your mental wellbeing is being compromised, then it is also important to speak to your GP.

The bully should be asked to explain their behaviour by a member of management. It is possible that bullying may be unintentional. In any case, bullying often stops when management becomes involved, and the bully’s position at the company is called into question.

Maintain a record

Keeping a record of dates and incidents is very useful if a formal complaint is lodged. This is the correct procedure if informal approaches fail to change the bully’s attitude. It is vital to make a complaint in a calm and measured way, following the organisation’s policy on bullying.

Company policy on bullying

Workplace bullying is destructive. Victims need to feel empowered and supported, and managers need to ensure that a positive working environment is safeguarded by robust policies central to the organisation’s vision. A zero-tolerance outlook on bullies needs to be embraced by everyone, especially senior management and HR.

Signposting help for bullying at work

There is legislation which addresses workplace bullying. Advice is available at GOV.UK: workplace bullying and harassment.

If you’re a manager worried about bullying in the workplace, our coaching for managers training can help you create a safer workplace for your team.

We also offer mental health awareness training and mental health first aid training.

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Posted on: 11th November 2022