Bullying at work: What to do if you are being bullied

By Anne Sexton - Last update

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Being bullied is one of the most distressing things that can happen to a person at work. It can happen in any organisation, and at any point in a career. If you are the victim of bullying, you may think that your life is being made a misery, but feel powerless to stop it.

Try not to take it personally. Bullying is usually about political power – and has nothing to do with your competence, work style or performance. The chances are you being targeted because you are good at your job, and the bully perceives you as a threat. Take control of the situation and you will be doing yourself, your colleagues and even the bully a favour. The following practical steps are designed to help you address the situation.


Don’t ignore the problem

Sadly, once a bully (or bullies) starts to pick on someone, they are unlikely to stop. Unless you are prepared to move department or leave the organisation altogether, you need to challenge the bully about their behaviour – informally or formally.

Confide in someone

One of the worst things about being bullied is how isolated and powerless it can make you feel – exactly what the bully intends and wants. Talking about your concerns with a trusted colleague, a family member or friend is an important first step. If your organisation has an employee helpline or a nominated bullying/harassment adviser they can give you free and confidential advice and support.

Find out if others are affected

A bully will often pick on more than one person at once. Look around you: do others who come into contact with the bully look worried or stressed? The more people you can identify with the same concerns as you, the more seriously any complaint will be taken. If others are being bullied they may offer you support and even be willing to back you up when you take action against the bully.

Know your rights

Find out whether your organisation has a written policy that covers bullying and harassment. This information can often be found in your staff handbook, or may form part of your organisation’s Dignity at Work policy if it has one.

Keep a diary

Log the dates, times, location and nature of bullying incidents, e. g. unrealistic or shifting work deadlines, being humiliated in front of other members of staff, etc. Remember to note down the names of any witnesses to the incidents, irrespective of whether you think they would back you up or not. Keep a note of actual words that were used, but stick to the facts. Be careful not to allow your emotions to affect how you record these incidents.

Keep copies of any written evidence of bullying behaviour towards you, such as emails, texts and messages. Copies of your job description and performance appraisals may also be relevant forms of evidence.


Talk to the bully directly. Consider inviting the bully to a meeting and let them know that you find their behaviour towards you unacceptable. It may help to use phrases such as “You may not realise that when you do X, it makes me feel like Y.” You should be prepared to give specific examples of when their behaviour has upset you.

This informal approach gives the bully a chance to make amends, without having to resort to a formal complaint. It is important to be aware that a bully may become defensive or angry when challenged about their behaviour. If this is the case, the next step is to make a formal complaint about them.

Ask someone else to talk to the bully for you. If you are wary of confronting the bully face to face, then another option is to ask a third party to have a quiet word with the bully for you. For instance, this could be your manager or an employee representative.


Raise a formal complaint. If an informal approach to the bully doesn’t work, or you feel it won’t work, you should make a formal complaint to your supervisor or line manager, using your organisation’s grievance procedure. If your boss is the bully, then make your complaint to their superior or your HR department. You may also want to talk to your trade union representative if you have one. Request confidentiality if you feel you need to.

Use your right to be accompanied. Once you have made a complaint, you would normally be asked to a meeting to discuss your grievance. You are entitled to take a colleague or trade union representative to such a meeting and it is advisable to do so.


Consider legal action. If nothing is done to improve your situation after you have raised a grievance, then you may feel you have no option but to take legal action. This may result in an employment tribunal. While you can’t take your employer to tribunal on grounds of bullying, you may be able to do so under laws on harassment and discrimination. You should seek legal advice before embarking on this course of action. If bullying causes you to leave your job, then you may be able to claim ‘constructive dismissal’. Again you should seek professional legal advice.

And finally…Be as professional as you can. Being bullied can make you feel extremely angry and upset. But it’s important to try to treat it as you would any other problem at work – as calmly and as professionally as possible. A bully will look for any means they can to claim you are making a fuss about nothing. Keep your cool, and it will only help your case.

This article was reproduced with the kind permission of Eden Tree.

Anne Sexton

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