Maxwell Stephens

Don't suffer in silence! How to deal with workplace bullying.

workplace bullying

You may think that bullying is something that is restricted to the school playground, however a large proportion have either been witness to, or victim of, workplace bullying at some point in their adult life. The workplace can be stressful at the best of times, but add workplace bullying into the mix and you have a hostile and unproductive environment that can cause undue additional stress and in extreme cases can lead to health concerns. Being bullied at work can quickly turn a dream job into a living nightmare and it’s vital that it is recognised and addressed as quickly as possible, for the benefit of everyone involved.


Are you actually being bullied?


Reports of workplace bullying are (or should be) taken extremely seriously, and can in fact be extremely damaging both professionally and personally should false accusations be thrown about. It is vitally important to ascertain whether or not you are being bullied, which requires accurate self-reflection and analysis of any potential instances of bullying; including your state of mind, the situation, the frequency or regularity of incidents, and any potential actions or behaviours you may be carrying out which could be contributing to a challenging situation. There may be an instance where you have been reprimanded for poor work performance which may be difficult to handle, however as long as it’s done in a professional manner it cannot (and should not) be classed as workplace bullying. Recognising the difference between bullying and professional performance management can sometimes be quite difficult, particularly in goal or target-orientated positions, however there are certain things can be objectively classified as workplace bullying. This is not a comprehensive list however these actions or activities can be a clear indication of workplace bullying:


  • Insults, rudeness or intentional embarrassment
  • Spreading rumours or stories about individuals
  • Excluding and ignoring people or any other form of victimisation
  • Unwarranted personal or professional criticism
  • Overworking
  • Making staff members perform demeaning, degrading or pointless tasks
  • Threatening behaviour
  • Unwanted sexual advances and harassment
  • Preventing promotion or other professional development

Speak up


You will most likely have had this advice drilled into from a young age in the playground, you may even have children yourself and given this advice, yet it is amazing how many people don’t actually tell someone when they are being the victim of bullying. One of the main issues with workplace bullying is that the majority of cases go unreported. Understandably you may be concerned about what colleagues may think, and if the bully is your superior or someone in a position of power you may be fearful of professional repercussions. There will always be reasons to suffer in silence, however it is vital for both your professional and personal life that you speak up. Although it is an incredibly daunting task for the majority of people, talking to your bully directly is often the best tactic. They may simply not be aware of how their behaviour is affecting you and talking to them in a calm, rational and professional way can be the key to changing the dynamic.


Describe the behaviour you see the bully exhibiting—don’t embellish this or give your point of view, simply describe what you see. Try to be concrete in what you say and steer clear of abstract emotional language, e.g. don’t say “you’re mean and nasty to me”, as this does not provide clear evidence of negative behaviours, instead be specific about the actions of behaviours that affect you, such as “You often raise your voice to me and encroach on my personal space in an aggressive way”. Remember to try and keep calm, this is not an argument, it is a constructive discussion.


Obviously, you may be uncomfortable talking directly with your antagonist, in which case it’s still important that you speak to someone. It the majority of cases this will mean discussing the issue with your manager or your HR representative. When discussing your concerns with others, try to ensure that you don’t play the blame game. Come up with a plan of what you are going to say, maybe even rehearse it, and be sure to include the impact it is having on your productivity, well-being and professional performance. Try to be clear, concise and specific.


It’s not you, it’s me


This may be an impossible task, however try not to take instances of bullying personally. In the vast majority of cases, when someone is being a bully it is more of an indication of their personal issues/insecurities, than an indictment of you as a person. Keeping this in mind will help you to deal with the situation on an emotional level and also help you to address the situation in a rational and professional way.


Keep records


This final piece of advice is a really important one: always document everything that relates to your interactions with the workplace bully. Again, it is best to be as specific as possible, provide dates and times, the exact words that were said, physical interactions, retain copies of emails etc. This will not only help to provide a timeline of events and help you to recall information, it would also provide valuable evidence should the matter need to be escalated.


Being in the recruitment sector for so long, we at Maxwell Stephens are acutely aware of how widespread and common the issue of workplace bullying is. Remember you are not alone and there is always someone to talk to. The team at Maxwell Stephens are always on hand to help with your career in any way we can, you can contact us via email at, or speak to one of our friendly team via 0207 118 4848.


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