By Debbie Holden 12 Nov 2019 7 min read

What does bullying in the workplace look like?


Have you ever been bullied at work? Ever been made to feel upset, nervous, or unwelcome? Or perhaps you’ve witnessed someone who was being bullied at work? You wouldn’t be the only one. 

In light of Anti-Bullying Week, we’re bringing you a special, straightforward blog today that explores bullying in the workplace and how you can tackle it head on.

At the beginning of the year, SME Loans conducted a survey with the aim of helping UK SMEs become better workplaces for employees and employers alike. After surveying 2,000 UK based employees on their experiences at work to date, our findings revealed that:


  • 23% of the British workforce has been bullied at work
  • 25% have been made to feel left out in the workplace
  • 12% admitted to struggling to make friends in their place of work


That’s right, bullying doesn’t stop once you’ve left the playground. It happens in all walks of life, and our aim today is to help those suffering identify solutions, to tackle bullying once and for all. 

According to SME Loans’ findings, the proportion of workers who have experienced workplace bullying is fairly consistent across age groups and gender. When it came to feeling left out in the workplace, the statistics varied considerably.

18 – 24 year olds had the highest proportion of respondents admitting to feeling left out in their workplace, with a shocking ⅓ of this age group not feeling a part of their team. This was closely followed by 25 – 34 years olds, of which 31% agreed that they feel left out at work. As the age groups progress, this figure continues to drop:


  • 35 – 44 year olds – 25%
  • 45 – 54 year olds – 21%
  • Over 55 year olds – 16.6%


Not only varying by age group, the results differed regionally too. While just 15% of the workforce in Northern Ireland feel that they’ve experienced bullying, almost a third of employees in the South West feel that they have.

Sadly, 17% of the workforce in Scotland have struggled to make friends at work, compared to just 6% in the South West. Whereas a huge 29.5% of London workers have been made to feel left out at work, falling to 20.6% in the East of England.


What can I do to tackle bullying in the workplace?

Tackling bullying in the workplace isn’t easy, but done correctly, you can play a small part in tackling a very big problem. Here are a few tips below that should help to get the ball rolling:


Stay calm

Criticism or personal remarks are not connected to your ability to do your job. They reflect the bully’s own weaknesses, and are meant to intimidate and control. Stay calm, and don’t be tempted to explain you’re behaviour – better yet, get them to explain theirs. 


Address it head on

Addressing a workplace bully is a terrifying thought, particularly if it’s a senior member of the company. 

Examples of bullying in a workplace setting could involve being shut out of team meetings, colleagues threatening to replace you, a manager making jokes about one’s lifestyle or background, making offensive comments directly or indirectly or providing inaccurate information and withholding correct information that impacts another person’s ability to do the job.

You could be tempted to seek out revenge or stoop to this person’s level, but be advised that should you retaliate, it could land you in hot water. Address the jokes or comments with an offer to discuss the situation in private, and make it clear their comments are not acceptable in public. You should also register whether other people have heard what they said to you – this will help in case you need to take things further with HR, for example.  


Make a formal complaint

Bullying should never go unnoticed, therefore once you see it, it’s your responsibility to tell someone about it. Particularly if you’ve tried to tackle it, but haven’t succeeded. You would have to follow your employee’s grievance procedure.



You should find someone to confide in at work, who you trust. Victims of bullying are reluctant to speak out about what they’re going through. They experience stress, damaged self-esteem, impaired physical and emotional health and weakened cognitive functioning. But having someone to talk to can help you see that you’re not alone. Feeling helpless and disempowered at a place where you spend 8 or so hours a day can lead to more severe consequences, depression or suicide. 


Document it

Bullying in the workplace can easily spiral out of control if nothing is documented. Having no evidence to back up your grievances means it’s harder to expose someone, particularly showing their patterns of behaviour as opposed to a one off comment. HR is a great resource to utilise to gain more information and discuss the issue. Documentation should all be kept factual, and you should highlight any witnesses within it. The key is to present the situation appropriately without bringing emotions or anger into it. 

Bullying at work can take shape or form in many different ways. If you feel as though you are experiencing bullying in the workplace, this can be a very devastating and distressing issue and bullying can affect your emotional health. You may be feeling very low and anxious at the thought of going to work, and facing the individual or group that may be subjecting you to this and the bullying may also be affecting family life. Just know that there are people you can talk to about this situation, and that you can beat bullying in the workplace – just be confident and take those first steps by telling someone. 



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