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Subtle signs of bullying

According to a survey carried out for the TUC in 2015, nearly a third of people are bullied at work in the UK and that number may be on the rise as an ACAS study during the same year revealed that many people are too afraid to speak out about it.

Most people’s perception of bullying is that the actions of the bully are overt and easily identifiable, consisting of the aggressive types of behaviour many of us have either experienced or witnessed in the school playground such as physical assault, name calling or verbal insults.

Workplace bullying, however, tends to be covert in nature and difficult to spot as it can involve subtle emotional and psychological manipulation which is hard to prove and may happen over a long period of time.  The result on the victim may include a dread of going to work, diminished confidence and productivity, increased feelings of anxiety or other mental health issues which can lead to self-harm and tragically suicide.  For organisations it can lead to a poor workplace culture, increased staff turnover and decreased productivity.  It has been estimated that the annual economic impact resulting from bullying could be in the region of £18 billion.  It is therefore not only in employees’ interests for anti-bullying policies to be in place  and both managers and staff to be trained to spot and deal with any bullying which occurs in the workplace. Bullying needs to be able to be openly discussed and not brushed under the carpet as “a manager’s “style” or “an organisation’s culture”.

Subtle signs of bullying – 8 examples

Being set up to fail – setting impossible targets or changing expectations when a task is already started or nearing completion.  Can also include purposely keeping information from the victim or omitting to provide necessary information.

Excluding – intentionally excluding an individual from group activities both in terms of work discussions and decisions as well as work-related events.

Finding fault – giving unwarranted constant criticism of the victim’s work or behaviour.  This can either be on a one to one basis or by the bully making belittling comments about the victim’s work in a group setting, for example during meetings.

Flattery – being overly complimentary and flattering to someone in order to gain their trust with the goal being that they will then lower their guard and be more receptive to further manipulative behaviour.

Ignoring – purposely avoiding or not paying attention to the victim.  Will often include talking to those around them but deliberately not acknowledging or including the victim in that conversation.

Lying – being economical with the truth or lying in order for the bully to get their own way.

Never knowing where you stand – the victim is unsure of where they stand due to the bully having frequent mood swings and changing emotions.

Responsibility being taken away –  or changing the victim’s work role with no reasonable reason being given


Workplace bullying resources

If this article was of interest, you may be interested in the following:

Ask the Expert: Is there any harm in allowing office banter?

Bullying Article: Bullying or firm management?

Covert v Overt Bullying

Bullying at Work – a short film about bullying behaviours both obvious and obscure

Statistics relating to bullying illustrate why it can’t be ignored in the workplace

Training in Preventing Bullying : Shout it from the rooftops

We also have a bullying resources page which is sub-divided into relevant sections and provides a wide variety of external links to valuable resources


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