Bullying in the Workplace - An acceptable cost?
By Andy Ellis, Ruskin College, Oxford, UK

In 1994, Staffordshire University Business School published the results of a survey indicating that 1 in 2 UK employees have been bullied at work during their working life. This particular statistic is just one of many which have been piling up across the world attracting little or no interest from either the politician or the businessman.

The hypothesis which I intend to cover during this project report is that workplace bullying is not only unhealthy for those being bullied but also for the organisations which are allowing it to continue. I intend to show that even many of the employers which are leading in this area by adopting anti bullying policies are allowing their line management to ignore the policy and instead provide an atmosphere of uncertainty within their organisations.

This project report pays specific attention to the British retail industry. I have conducted research by way of questionnaire within this industry in Gloucester and Somerset, both of which are in the South West of England. The data which has been compiled in this research is outlined in chapter 5 and may be referred to in various stages throughout this report where it is relevant.

I have split this project report up into six chapters being:

It is important to understand the typical personality makeup of a bully in order to understand what motivates such people to victimise their victims. It is for this reason that I have decided to include research by leading psychologists in this field throughout the stages in which the dysfunctional personality is being formed.

Just as bullying at school causes serious problems, so too does bulying at work. The most significant of these problems is stress and its medical effects, both physically and mentally. Most of the costs of bullying are linked to stress and in that respect I have gone into some detail in Chapter 3 as to how stress can manifest itself.

Chapter 4 deals specifically with bullying in the workplace. Although in the two case studies which I have outlined, I have changed personal details to protect the identity of the victims in each case, both cases are true examples of bullying which took place in a British workplace.

This chapter is relatively short but it is my hope that it gives some insight into the sort of workplace that is most at threat.

In Chapter 5, I have outlined the findings of the personal research which I have undertaken in relation to bullying within the Retail Industry in particular. As expected, this research backs the assertions which have already been made during this project and makes the link between the unhealthy organisation and bullying.

There is no one single strategy to tackle the workplace bully and indeed no way to completely remove the threat of such a person from the workplace but I have given some indications in chapter 6 of ways in which an employer can work towards the ultimate goal.

Chapter 1. Definition.

The Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union (MSF) has identified workplace bullying as "Persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, abuse of power or unfair penal sanctions which make the recipient feel upset, threatened, humiliated, or vulnerable, which undermines their self confidence and which may cause them to suffer stress.

The word was later defined by Peter Randall, (Adult Bullying - Perpetrators & Victims. P4) as being "the aggressive behaviour arising from the deliberate intent to cause physical or psychological distress to others".

Mr Randall went on to accept that many behavioural psychologists are opposed to the inclusion of ‘intent’ in the definition and pointed towards Buss (1961) as such an example, believing that there is no way in which such a concept can be subjected to scientific scrutiny. Indeed, Mr Randall pointed towards a possible example of a doctor treating a cancerous patient with chemotherapy as a case where the doctor is doing something which, although knowingly causes pain, is not aggressive.

Personally I would agree with Klaus Klimer who recently set up a hospital in Sweden to help some of the victims of workplace bullying who stated in a television interview "In Britain you call it bullying, in Sweden we call it mobbing but it doesn’t really matter what you call it, the effects are the same. The word should really be replaced with psychological terrorisation"

Chapter 2. Back to the roots of bullying

In order to understand why one adult bullies another it is necessary to return to the roots of that behaviour.

According to researchers such as Parke and Slaby, aggressive behaviour is actually a part of normal development in young children in the same way as learning controls that dissuade the child from taking specific courses of action such as fighting or putting ones hand into a fire for example. As aggression grows through various stages, the child develops parallel controls to counteract each stage of aggression.

Szegal who carried out observational studies in this area suggested that the first real intentions towards intentional aggression are usually revealed between 7 and 12 months in response to experiences of frustration or tension and at times when the infant demands attention.

Randall (Adult bullying: perpetrators & victims. P.75) argued that "By the age of 12 months, it is believed that the infant begins to organise cognitive and behavioural expressions in respect of their primary caregivers, usually the mothers" In short, Randall is arguing that the child is strategically thinking through his actions in a form of cause and effect, e.g.: "if I cry my mother will come" or "if I hold out my arms I will be picked up". Randall argues that these factors combining can be understood as part of an attachment relationship with the primary carer of which the overall quality of interactions is critical for the successful functional development of a child. It is argued that the satisfaction derived by the infant from the interactions with the primary carer do a great deal to increase the rate at which the carer is able to control the aggression. It is argued that with the correct attention at this age, the child is more able to deal with tension and stress without the need to respond aggressively.

The need to possess is another trait which produces aggressive behaviour. The most common aggression in the nursery is over the possession of certain toys. Randall (Adult bullying: perpetrators & victims. P.75) argues that it is this need to ‘have’ objects which is the major forerunner of the behaviour which the child eventually refines into bullying. In short, he argues, "being able to ‘snatch and grab’ is one of the earliest abuses of power we know of".

It is believed that most children are able to express the full range of human emotions by the age of 3 and indeed, researchers such as Dunn argue that a child of just 18 months is able to pre-meditate getting other small children into trouble in the home environment. Frustration however tends to reduce as children gain the ability to communicate through speech, enabling them to off-load casual distress. At this stage children become able to use other strategies, such as negotiation based upon expressive language instead of aggression.

At about the age of 18 months, some researchers believe a child will develop the ability to feel sympathy and empathise with other people in response to any distress which they may be going through. This characteristic is of course an important inhibitor to aggressive behaviour.

Primary Carers and the importance of role models.

According to researchers such as Randall (Adult bullying: perpetrators & victims. P.77), the successful development of the child is based upon the "successful combination of biological maturation and the adequacy of the environment as contributed by the child’s parents or primary caregivers". Unfortunately, community investigations by Randall and Donohue in 1993, and nursery school observational studies by McQuire and Richman in 1986 show that the numbers of aggressive pre-school children are growing. It is believed that some of these children have behaviour disorders and are not receiving the kind of interactions they need from their primary carers which encourage the inhibition of later aggression.

The interaction between the child and the parent or childminder, is believed to be of vital importance as children are helped to tolerate frustrating events as a result of the quality of the examples which they are set by the older role models. Children can also be encouraged to use language and play to offset much of the aggressive behaviour which is linked to frustration.

Many researchers, including, Bandura, Ross and Ross in 1969 argue that it is well known that the behaviour of a primary caregiver becomes a role model for the child in their care. If a carer models aggression then the child is likely to mimic that aggression. It does have to be remembered of course that on the positive side, just as a carer may be a model for aggression, so the carer can also model more sociable behaviour such as empathy, caring, turn taking, negotiation, comforting, indeed the list is endless. With this type of example being set by the primary caregiver, it is likely that over time, the child is more likely to reject aggressive behaviour in favour of more sociable behaviour which does not cause pain to other members of their peer group.

According to researchers such as Herbert, a successful parent will also provide appropriate limits for behaviour. Typically, pro-social behaviour is rewarded by positive feedback by the caregiver whilst aggressive or other undesirable behaviour is not tolerated. Once the parent has formed a successful strategy in this area, the parent is likely to use the strategy consistently and the child is eventually able to internalise the limits that are set in order to self regulate his or her behaviour. It is believed that one of the first signs that this has not happened properly is when the child’s behaviour is out of step with the requirements of the school.

The bully from school onwards.

Recently Eron followed up 518 children in up state New York from the age of 8 years old. All of these children are now in their forties. The finding of this research is that children who were designated most aggressive at the age of 8 have now committed more serious crimes as adults. They also show a greater tendency towards alcoholism and anti social aggressive behaviour. It is interesting to note that when these children were originally assessed, they had the same average IQ as those who were not labelled in that way. Unfortunately, by the age of 19, their aggressive behaviour began to get in the way of their developing education and they began slipping significantly behind the non aggressive children of the same age.

Significant to the topic of workplace bullying, is the review of their behaviour at the age of 30 at which stage they were interviewed with their partners. Eron and his colleagues discovered that there was significantly more abusive behaviour in the relationships and that their anti social behaviour which they had developed in earlier life interfered with everyday activities. It was found that not only were they more abusive, both physically and mentally towards their partners but their aggressive behaviour also ruined their chances at work because they were regarded as disruptive and aggressive. This is clear evidence that aggressive children grow up to be aggressive adults with poor interpersonal skills, both in private life and in employment.

Randall, (Adult bullying: perpetrators & victims. P.23) who is credited as having interviewed hundreds of bullies and victims of bullying stated that "On the basis of considerable personal experience I have discovered that bullying children are different in many fundamental ways from non-bullying children and certainly from their victims. Like many other researchers I have noted a particular cognitive make up, a distinctively hostile intention to others, no matter how slight the provocation might be. In fact there is often no provocation, just an invented one in order to excuse or justify the bullies aggressive behaviour" Randall went on to point out how victims told of harrowing stories of accidentally bumping into a bully in the dinner queue which was then taken as an insult and a therefore a call to arms. Randall felt that this pointed towards the inability of the bully to process information in an accurate way and to make a realistic judgement as to the intentions of other people, which the bully views as hostile and therefore seeks revenge.

It is this urge for revenge that researchers such as Randall argue allows bullies to hold a favourable attitude towards violence and other forms of aggression as a strategy to solve their problems. If the behaviour of the bully goes unchecked, it rapidly develops into a strong need to dominate other children and the deriving of satisfaction from causing pain.

Researchers in the field of child psychology feel that the child bully tends to hold a high opinion of themselves and tend to be untroubled by anxiety which as an emotion can provide a degree of restraint. Child bullies look upon themselves as being superior and powerful and as such they have little awareness or interest in what other children think about them.

Olweus argued that by the early teenage years, a bullies popularity begins to fall to the extent that their only acquaintances are other "toughs". Olweus went on to argue that "although the bully may get what they want through their bullying behaviour and are respected because of it, this respect is based on fear and they are not liked".

The selection of victims.

Research by Randall (Adult bullying: perpetrators & victims. P.24) shows that up to the age of seven bullies may pick on anyone and will meet with limited success depending on the ability of the particular child to retaliate. From Seven onwards however, Randall suggests that bullies tend to single out particular victims and that these children may acquire a ‘whipping boy’ status for the rest of their school careers.

Randall backs this statement up by referring to research carried out by Ladd suggesting that bullies engage in a selection process in order to determine which children are likely to make the easiest target. Ladd points out that in the beginning of the school year, when children do not know each other, approximately 22% of children report at least one experience of victimisation. In contrast to this statistic however, by the end of the school year it was shown that only 8% of pupils were being regularly singled out by bullies.

In 1995 Randall (Adult bullying: perpetrators & victims. P.26) carried out research into the attitude towards bullying in several local schools which presented some interesting findings of significance to the difficulties expressed by many trade union activists in the early identification of workplace bullying and the consequential attitudes of denial shown by higher management who, although sympathetic, refuse or simply fail to tackle the problem once it has been identified.

The study involved a questionnaire that was administered consisting of 20 items which were used in previous research by Rigbe and Slee to tap attitudes towards victims. In this questionnaire, half the items were positively keyed (e.g. "weak kids need help") and half were negatively keyed (e.g. "nobody likes a wimp"). There were three response categories provided being agree, unsure, and disagree. Total support for victims therefore ranged from 20 to 60.

Randall found that in the schools surveyed, the majority of children were opposed to bullying which they considered to be both undesirable and felt should be stopped. He did note however that there tended to be a separation of bullying from what happened to weak children. Randall felt that this was particularly highlighted by the splitting off of various types of bullying behaviour (name calling, being pushed around ect) from the weakness of children. Randall felt that there was evidence that some children wanted to distance themselves from victims and that they believed they get what they deserve. That being said, it was felt that there was a clear wish for bullies to be punished and children to be defended.

The use of an audience to reinforce bullying.

In the school playground, just as in the workplace one can identify the importance to many bullies of an audience. Onlookers are specifically important to bullies provided that they do not inform authority figures of what is taking place. The significance of the audience is that it is an effective means of spreading the word that the bully is powerful and thereby to enhance the reputation and power which the bully wishes to establish.

The research which I have carried out shows this point quite clearly. When one looks at fig 7, one can see that the public humiliation is the second most popular form of workplace bullying and was reported to have taken place by no fewer than 70% of the sample indicating they were being bullied.

Chapter 3. Stress and its effects on health.

As I shall outline in this chapter onwards, workplace bullying, in just the same way as school bullying or bullying in the community has definite undesirable medical effects which cost industry billions of pounds each year.

The effects are linked to stress and in this respect I feel that I should go into some detail regarding the medical effects of stress in this chapter.

The word stress derives from the Latin word ‘stringere’ meaning to ‘draw tight’ and was used during the seventeenth century to describe hardships or affliction.

The chart below shows how stress in the early stages can ‘rev up’ the body and enhance performance in the workplace, thus the term ‘I perform better under pressure’. If this condition is allowed to go unchecked however and the body is revved up further then performance will ultimately decline and the persons health will degenerate as demonstrated in fig 1.


Source of chart above: Stress UK.

The symptoms of stress which I have outlined below in fig 2 and 3, are believed to stem from our primitive ‘fight or flight’ response to perceived dangers. This response produces surges of chemical reactions in the blood stream as outlined in fig. 3 which can cause psychological problems such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Cumulative Stress Disorder for example.


It is believed that man has retained much of his primitive hormonal and chemical defence mechanisms intact throughout the centuries which enabled the cave man to either fight the perceived danger or to retreat, thus the phrase ‘fight or flight’. Unfortunately, the lifestyle which we live in today does not allow us to react physically to the problems which we face. We are not for example able to punch our boss when he or she is acting aggressively as such actions are all forms of behaviour that are not tolerated in today’s society. Similarly, in today’s society we are not able to use the ‘flight’ response either. The consequences for manager who flees from a stressful meeting are likely to be sweeping. It is believed that it is this denial of our primitive responses which causes the strains on our body and leads to stress related disease and sickness, as the adrenaline which runs through our body and prepares us for our basic responses has no outlet.

Cooper (Stress and employer liability P.9) argues that "our thought patterns regarding ourselves and the situations we are in trigger events within two branches of our central nervous system, the ‘sympathetic’ and the ‘parasympathetic’ ". In short, the ‘sympathetic’ reaction is where the body, ‘revs up’ the adrenaline and other hormones in the blood stream in response to a perceived danger and the ‘parasympathetic’ is where the body ‘revs down’ and unwinds itself. The ‘rev up’ activity is designed to improve performance in the body however, as Cooper puts it "if the stress that launches this activity continues unabated, the human body begins to weaken as it is bombarded by stimulation and stress related chemicals". Melhuish described many of the long term effects of pressure in Fig 3.

Fig 2. List of Ailments recognised to have stress background.


Hypertension: high blood pressure. Menstrual difficulties.
Coronary thrombosis: heart attack Nervous syspepsia: flatulence and indigestion.
Migraine Depression
Hay fever and allergies Hyperthyroidism: overactive thyroid gland
Asthma Diabetes mellitus
Pruritis: intense itching Skin Disorders
Peptic ulcers Tuberculosis
Constipation Colitis
Rheumatoid Arthritis Indigestion


*Source: Cary Cooper. Stress and employer Liability (P9).

The costs of stress.

There can be little dispute against ever growing research that stress has a significant negative impact on the well-being of both the individual and the organisation. Links have been demonstrated between stress and the incidence of heart disease, alcoholism, mental breakdowns, job dissatisfaction, accidents, family problems and certain forms of cancer.

In the UK during the 1980’s, stress in the workplace proved to multiply similar costs due to Industrial Action by more than 10 fold. Recent figures released by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in 1995 calculate that alcohol and drink related diseases cost the UK economy approximately £1.7 billion and 8 million lost working days, with coronary artery disease and strokes costing a further 62 million days lost and mental health at £3.7 billion and 91 million days lost.

Certain countries (e.g.. the USA and Finland) are showing declines in certain stress related illnesses such as heart disease and alcoholism. In contrast to these figures however the UK is simply not even coming close to matching up. The World Health Organisation recently published figures indicating that not only is the UK near the top of the world league table in terms of fatality due to heart disease, it is also extending that lead on an ongoing basis with ever yearly increases in the statistics. The British Heart Foundation recently released figures that heart disease costs the average UK employer 10,000 employee’s, 73,000 lost working days and the death of 42 of its employee’s (between the age of 35 and 64), together with a loss of £2.5 million in productive value of its product.

Costs to the nation are of similar staggering proportions. The British Heart Foundation Coronary prevention group has for example calculated that 180,000 people die in the UK each year from coronary heart disease, which equates to 500 people per day. In addition to this, the mental health charity MIND has estimated that 30 or 40% of all sickness absence from work is attributable to mental and emotional disturbance. The suicide rate among the younger age group of employee’s has increased by 30% between the late 1970’s to the early 1990’s. RELATE has estimated that by the year 2000 there will be 4 divorces in every 10 and indeed this would appear to be the direction the nation has been going as divorce rates have risen from 27,000 in 1961 to 155,000 in 1988. Finally, Alcohol Concern has estimated that one in four men in the UK drink more than the medically recommended number of units per week and that 25% of accidents at work involve workers under the influence of alcohol.

Who pays the costs?

One does have to ask why countries such as the USA and Finland are able to show lower levels of stress related illnesses such as heart disease and alcoholism whilst the UK’s are still rising.

Cooper (Stress and employer liability P.15) argues that the two most likely explanations are that, firstly "American industry is facing an enormous and ever spiralling bill for employee health care costs. Whilst individual costs have risen by 50% over the past 20 years, the contribution by employers has risen by more than 140%. It has also been estimated that over $700 million a year is spent by American employers to replace the 200,000 men aged from 45 to 65 who die from, or are incapacitated by, coronary artery disease alone. At Xerox for example, top management estimate that just one executive being lost due to a stress related illness costs the organisation $160,000."

Fig 3. Effects of stress on bodily functions.


  Normal (relaxed) Under pressure Acute pressure Chronic pressure. (stress)
Brain. blood supply normal blood supply up Thinks more clearly Headaches or migraines, tremors and nervous tics.
Mood. Happy serious Increased concentration Anxiety, loss of sense of humour.
Saliva Normal Reduced. Reduced. Dry mouth, lump in throat.
Muscles. Blood supply normal blood supply up improved performance Muscular tension and pain.
Heart. Normal rate and blood pressure. Increased rate and blood pressure. Improved performance Hypertension and chest pains.
Lungs. Normal respiration Increased respiration rate. Improved performance Coughs and asthma.
Stomach. Normal blood supply and acid secretion. Reduced blood supply and increased acid secretion. Reduced blood supply reduces digestion. Ulcers due to heartburn and indigestion.
Bowels. Normal blood supply and bowel activity. Reduced blood supply and increased bowel activity. Reduced blood supply reduces digestion. Abdominal pain and diarrhoea.
Bladder. Normal. Frequent urination Frequent urination due to increased nervous stimulation. Frequent urination, prostatic symptoms.
Sexual organs. (Male) Normal.

(Female) Normal periods etc.

(M) Impotence (decreased blood supply)

(F) Irregular periods.

Decreased blood supply. (M) Impotence.

(F) Menstrual disorders.

Skin. Healthy. Decreased blood supply. Dry skin. Decreased blood supply. Dryness and rashes.
Biochemistry. Normal: Oxygen consumed, glucose and fats liberated. Oxygen consumption up, glucose and fats consumption up. More energy immediately available. Rapid tiredness.


(Source: A Melhuish, Executive Health, London Business books. 1978).

In the UK however, employers can create levels of stress which are inhuman amongst their employees and leave it to the tax payer to pick the bill up through the National Health Service. As Cooper (Stress & employer liability P15) puts it "at the present time there is no accountability of, or incentive for, employers in the UK to maintain the health of their employees". The position of the previous Conservative government has been to cut red tape for employers and take the burden of the costs onto the state.

This being said of course, the indirect costs to employers of stress related illness are staggering but unfortunately employers rarely actually attempt to estimate those costs. Instead, employers simply treat absenteeism, high labour turnover and low productivity as an intrinsic part of running a business or simply blame the problems on the work-force with the allegation that the workers are simply lazy, old or slow.

The position of most unionised employers in the USA is that they will provide Employee Assistance programs for their employees in order to help them overcome various forms of substance abuse such as smoking and alcoholism. As this particular study concerns the retail industry it is worthwhile noting that one United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) official told me "We are still fighting to get bathroom breaks in some of the food and meat plants". This is not to decry the efforts of this particular union, indeed it was the president of the UFCW who was the first union leader in the AFL-CIO to negotiate health care agreements with employers in the USA. Local Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) officials and shop stewards often complain of similar difficulties in certain stores so it would appear that this is a significant problem in retail the world over.

When we take a look at the Industrial workplace however, it would seem that things are completely different. Information which I have received from Don Howell, a local International Brotherhood of Teamsters activist working for UPS Ltd in the State of New Jersey, indicates that stress management and health care for its workers are significantly more advanced than comparable employers in the UK. In the main, the stress management courses are for management rather than the workers although UPS indicate that some of the problem here lies with a low uptake of facilities being offered by the employer to rank and file employees. The company does however offer access to the HABITS program which addresses issues like exercise and modification, advice on dietary control and some lifestyle management. The medical insurance program deals with items such as regular health checks although I am told that this depends on the actual program. UPS are now also looking at on site recreational facilities and some areas have already negotiated UPS discounts for health and fitness clubs.

Local negotiations appear to produce most of the items within the UPS stress management drive but it should be noted that UPS are head and shoulders above comparative employers in the UK. This should further be considered in the light that Mr Howell assures me UPS are about average in their industry for stress management.

Cooper (Stress & employer liability P15) argues that the second source of growing costs is that "more and more American employees are litigating against their employers in America through the worker compensation regulations and laws, in respect of job related stress or what is being termed as ‘cumulative trauma’. We are in the UK beginning to see a similar move towards this type of litigation by workers as several British Trade Unions are supporting claims by individual workers. The trend of cases coming through the courts is certainly in the direction of mental disability claims and damages being awarded on the basis of workplace stress".

When we are faced with such overwhelming cost benefits in relation to reducing stress and yet so little is done to minimise it, one has to wonder about the mentality of British management in ignoring this vital issue.

Chapter 4. Bullying in the workplace.

Generally speaking, bullying in the workplace goes largely unrecognised by both government and by employers alike. Research compiled by the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology however indicates that somewhere between one third and one half of all stress related illness is directly attributable to bullying at the workplace. Despite this staggering fact however, it has to be said that until recently, even trade unions never realised the full extent of the problem and chose instead to remain in denial for many years.

The statistics world-wide are frightening as I shall now indicate. The US Department of Justice and the Bureaux of Justice have compiled data which would appear to be in line with many of the statistics available in the United Kingdom. These findings include:

Over one million individuals are the victims of violent crimes in the workplace each year. For comparison reasons, this is said to be around 15% of all violent crimes committed annually in the United States.

Of specific interest to the topic of workplace bullying, of all the violent crimes committed in the workplace, 19% were committed by individuals well known to the victim.

It was estimated that aggression in the workplace caused some 500,000 workers to miss 1,751,000 work days annually or 3.5 days per incident. This loss of working days equated to $55 million in lost wages.

In November 1994 the Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD) published the results of a survey revealing that 1 in 8 (around 3 million) UK employees have been bullied at work in the last five years. Over half of those who have experienced bullying say it is commonplace in their organisation and a quarter say it has got worse in the last year. These figures appear to be backed up by survey after survey.

Workplace bullying can take many forms and may include examples of Racial and/or Sexual harassment. On the whole however, bullying in workplaces take place as clear examples of the abuse of power.

The issue of ‘power’ is central to the theme of workplace bullying and indeed, most examples of bullying at work will involve an imbalance of power between the two parties. Olweus stated of bullying that whatever else may be true, there is always an imbalance of power. The research which I have carried out in the UK retail industry would appear to be no exception to that rule.

The workplace bully is generally well known by both the employees and the employer, even in the case where the bully is not identified within the often entirely unsatisfactory procedure. The bully will often be in a position of authority over the people that he or she terrorises in the workplace and as such is often the first port of call within the grievance procedure. This fact in itself will suppress most if not all potential complaints and invariably, those which do become aired will either be ignored, disbelieved or trivialised by the personnel department.

If the victim of the bully is really unlucky they may find that the personnel department are powerless to deal with the bully as the bully is senior to the Personnel department. This is particularly likely in smaller companies and in organisations in which the lines of demarcation between the line manager and the personnel department are rather blurred. It may also be that the organisation has been run in an authoritarian style for so long that bullies have congregated in a gang to support each other against complaints in much the same way as the school bullies only acquaintances are quickly reduced to other ‘toughs’.

Case Study.

Sarah, who joined a government department some years ago excelled in both the academic and employment sense to the extent that she performed very well in exams and gained promotion into a demanding job much sooner than was normally the case. Sarah would, from this point on, be under the control of a new boss, named Linda, who supervised three persons in all. Although this department was relatively small, this was relative to the specialisation of the department rather than its significance in the organisation.

The first two months in this job went well, Sarah enjoyed the challenges of the job, and began enthusiastically working for her new manager. Linda however resented Sarah for her ‘cheeriness and sociability’ and made it known that she felt this was a sign that Sarah was not serious about her work.

After six months, Sarah became concerned as to how she was progressing in her job. Her manager was not known for praising an employee for a job well done and indeed only handed out criticism. A report from her new manager stating that she was intelligent, enthusiastic and progressing well reassured her however that she had nothing to worry about.

It was from this point on that the relationship seemed to go downhill. Sarah began to act on her self confidence and began to state opinions in group meetings as to how things could be improved. Linda made it clear that she resented this, possibly perceiving it as a threat and began to display marked irritation with everything that Sarah said or did.

Sarah was volunteered by her manger for a move into another department in which, despite still answering to Linda, she would work under the direct control of Steve. Steve was a more senior manager than Linda however unknown to Sarah, he was also one whom Linda disliked intensely and belittled constantly. Sarah embraced this post with similar enthusiasm to her previous post and made little secret of the fact that she was impressed by its leader.

Sarah suddenly became the non-flavour of the month. Linda would constantly criticise and nit pick for every last thing she could find. Work which Sarah completed for Linda was returned time and again despite the fact that Sarah had started running it past other more experienced work colleagues who found no problems with it.

The final straw came when Sarah’s son became ill with chicken pox at the same time as she had been asked in very vague terms for a report on the work she had been doing over the past twelve months. In the emergency, and in the absence of Linda, Sarah handed in the report early explaining that she would willingly expand on the report if Linda was not satisfied with it, along with a note explaining that her son was ill and she would take some work home with her.

The next day Linda stormed into Sarah’s office and publicly began shouting at her for doing a lousy job on the report and for taking time off for her son. Linda insisted that Sarah either take the time as annual leave or make the time up at some stage in the future, this being despite the organisations policy relating to special leave for mothers with young families.

Following this incident, the office was in shock for several days and feeling naturally intimidated Sarah applied to Personnel for a transfer, which she later rescinded as she did not want to leave under the cloud which Linda had created. The working relationship became such that Sarah avoided speaking to Linda and dreaded going into work. Sarah fainted at work and eventually had a breakdown.

Sarah was signed off sick from work by her doctor and remained absent from work for 4 months. She suffered nightmares in relation to the experience which contributed to the depression which made her temporarily suicidal. Sarah wondered whether she would ever be able to face work again. Sarah has now returned to work in another department following Personnel admitting to her that Linda "could be very difficult". Although Sarah is now regaining her self confidence and enjoying work again, she has become significantly less confident about the future.

Jackal & Hyde Character.

People who experience workplace bullies can often be heard stating that the bully has a Jackal & Hyde personality. It is commonplace to hear Personnel managers and friends outside of work comment that they find it difficult to believe that Joe is bullying his staff, he is always so polite and friendly. Evidence however points towards the workplace being an environment where the bully is able to feel secure enough to behave in an aggressive way. In contrast to the workplace environment, the bully may not feel able to behave in a similar way at home in front of their partner or children, or indeed in public places as in such an environment their behaviour would rebound badly upon them. Indeed, it is not uncommon that neighbours and friends of serial killers found the person to be a quiet and polite person who kept themselves to themselves.

Case Study.

David was a supermarket manager who regularly bullied various members of staff at the store. David was a serial bully, in that he strategically selected his victim and then bullied them on a regular basis until they finally left the company, at which point he would simply select another victim. If challenged he would simply argue that his victims work was unsatisfactory.

David was unable to communicate effectively with staff for any period of time and although he was thought by his friends and higher management to be a charming man, many of the staff in his store were ruled by fear. He would marginalise any person who was in any way able to challenge what he saw as his absolute right to manage, often by overloading them with work to the extent that they had little or no time to challenge him.

This inability to manage people effectively led to several stores under his management to deteriorate to the extent that the company would begin the disciplinary process and on each occasion would eventually demote him to a smaller and more manageable store. This happened on several occasions and yet the employer refused to accept that it was not his ability to manage the store which was at fault but his inability to manage and motivate people.

Carol worked for the company for around 2 years before this particular manager was moved to her store. Her work was found by the previous manager at the store to be satisfactory.

When David arrived at the store, everybody thought that he was charming and couldn’t see why he had gained the reputation that he had from the other stores in which he worked. This honeymoon period soon diminished however when David had regained his confidence in his new workplace.

David soon recognised in Carol that she fitted the victim profile perfectly and that she was unlikely to complain to higher management, so he began his campaign of bullying against her. He regularly shouted at her in the middle of the supermarket and in front of other customers to the extent that she would rush to the toilets in tears. Where a complaint or news of the event reached the shop steward at the store, the manager was confronted and would apologise to Carol. David would back off for a time though the lapse in his attentions would only ever last a few days to a week.

Carol told me that David would stand at the end of the freezers where she was working for what seemed like hours and simply watch her. Carol spoke of how she could feel the managers eyes burning into her back. This made her nervous to the extent that she would soon make a mistake, at which point the manager would castigate her in public by shouting at her.

Carol suffered from an exma skin complaint which was heightened by stress. After a few days of a more covert style of bullying, often delivered in a coded language, Carol began to suffer with the skin complaint on a more marked basis. David, rather than supporting her made use of the companies policy in relation to staff care, called her to the office and asked her if her complaint was contagious as she was working with food.

Carol was bullied for a over a year before she eventually left the company and began on the long road to mental recovery. David continues to be employed at this store and has carved more notches into his imaginary tree.

Vulnerable workplaces.

According to MSF, the type of workplace where bullying is more likely to occur are those with an extremely competitive environment; a fear of redundancy or a fear for ones position. Some companies may inadvertently encourage a culture of promotion by putting colleagues down. An authoritarian style of management, organisational change and excessive workloads are also said to be contributory factors.

The employer who operates an authoritarian approach to bullying whilst distancing themselves from bullying would do well to remember the advice outlined in the ‘workplace critic’ "Badgering can turn into bullying and escalate into violence" Indeed, questionnaires returned in response to this project are littered with such examples.

If there was any industry which was safe from bullies one would imagine it would be in the health care and education sectors but unfortunately this is not the case. Bullying is rampant in these industries even though these sectors of the economy are two fields where the pro-social missions of the services should apply to employees in those industries. Idealistically, teachers and healers should be the least likely to abuse their power over their subordinates as this flies in the face of the motivations which would have drove them into these professions in the first place.

Unfortunately this is not the case as was reported in the Times on April 11th 1996 in which NASUWT stated that they would ballot for industrial action where a member was being victimised in a school and that member was supported by other members.

The NASUWT backed this statement up with the assertion that 2,000 out of 3,500 questionnaires returned stated that they had experienced victimisation at school. One female respondent from a church school wrote "The bullying governor is the parish priest and, as such is unassailable. I have now left" Another teacher who was scared to go home to look after her sick child, brought her into school in a blanket.

In a civilised society, there must be a better way of conducting Industrial Relations than this type of abuse. This will be the topic of discussion in Chapter 6.

Chapter 5. Results of Personal Research.

Many statistics have been given throughout this project which indicate the extent of bullying at work and its costs to industry but few of those statistics have been peculiar to any given industry in particular. MSF recently carried out a follow up survey of its representatives and found that the worst industry which they organised was in Sales and that the problem had worsened over the previous year.

I have carried out research by way of a questionnaire as outlined in appendix 1 within the retail industry in Gloucester and Somerset. This questionnaire was sent to 60 persons in all and included shop stewards, where there was a steward and store managers where there was not. Thirty questionnaires were returned equating to a 50% return. The statistics which have been compiled in this respect are rather alarming and would appear to match up to the assertions made by MSF in respect of the difficulties within this sector.

Out of the 30 questionnaires, 13 were returned stating that there was no problem whatsoever with bullying at their stores, which is very good news.

The remaining 18 questionnaires however stated that there was a problem and so for the purposes of this report it is these returns which I will concentrate on in the main. Some of the questionnaires quoted several cases of bullying however statistics were not made available for all of them. Where an indication was given as to the identity of the data in another part of the questionnaire I have adjusted the statistics accordingly.


When asked the status of the bully in contrast with the victim I have found the results as outlined in the table below.


  Total. Total as %
Bully in position of authority 20 90.9
Bully of equal status. 2 9.1
Bully subordinate to victim 0 0.0
Total Number of cases 22 100.0


*Fig 4.

As can be clearly seen by the figures above, it is quite clear that the majority of bullies are in positions of authority to those who are their victims. This is in contrast however to figures available from Sweden where you are more likely to be bullied by your peers than by your manager. One explanation for this may be that laws relating to workplace bullying are much tougher in Sweden and as such employers may be spending resources on training managers in effective management techniques including those techniques needed for managing people (?) This however is a subject for research all on its own and is too wide for discussion in this short piece of work.

Sex on Sex.

The first set of statistics is in relation to the sex of the bully as opposed to the sex of the victim.

The figures show that whatever sex the victim is, they are more likely to be bullied by a male, significantly so in the case of the female victim. These figures should however be taken in the context that the retail industry is one where the vast majority of managers are male and the vast majority of line workers are female.

Click here to see bar chart refered to above.

*Fig 5.

Events sparking off incidents of bullying behaviour.

The next set of statistics are in relation to the actual event that sparked the bullying behaviour off in the first place.


  No. of cases. As %
Arrival of new Manager at store 10 45.5
New work practices 4 18.2
Promotion of new Manager 1 4.5
Manager avenging reprimand 1 4.5
Worker simply not liked by Manager 1 4.5
Manager suffering from stress 1 4.5
No Answer. 4 18.2


22 100.0


*Fig 6.

As can be seen clearly from the table above, the main cause which sparks off bullying behaviour is the arrival of a new manager at the store. Some questionnaire returns did identify new working practices along with other factors including the arrival of a new manager, promotion of a new manager and the case of the manager suffering from stress. This may indicate that employers are perhaps not giving the training, support and advice needed to introduce such patterns. In one case however the new working pattern was introduced on the decision of the night crew manager which he indicated to the employees had the approval of the trade union USDAW. This was not however the case and in fact, the new practice which involved turning a unitainer onto its side in order to fill it with waste would prove to be a dangerous practice.

Manifestations of bullying behaviour.


  Male Female Total As %
Aggressive shouting at victim 12 4 16 94.1
Public Humiliation of victim 10 2 12 70.6
Victim set up to fail with overload of work 3 1 4 23.5
Unjustifiable and inconsistent discipline. 3 2 5 29.4
Constant & consistent insulting of victim 4 3 7 41.2
Inconsistently changing hours & duties 2 2 4 23.5
Cancelling holidays without good reason 2 1 3 17.6
Deliberate exclusion from social gatherings 1 0 1 5.9
Malicious gossip/rumour spreading. 0 1 1 5.9
Telephoning victim at home to intimidate further 2 1 3 17.6
Sexual/Racial harassment. 3 1 4 23.5


*Fig 7. NB: figures for males and Females refer to the sex of the bully.

One can see from the figures above that the most common forms of bullying are the overt types such as aggressively shouting at the victim or publicly humiliating the victim. As I have pointed out earlier in this report, the use of an audience is of great importance to a bully as it spreads word of the bullies power across the store or even group of stores in the case of a more senior manager.

At the time in which I was compiling the questionnaire I set out to prove the theory Randall put forward indicating that female bullies tend to act in a more covert fashion by the use of strategies which socially exclude people, however this does not appear to be borne out by these particular findings. It would appear from the figures above that the female bullies are just as capable of aggressive overt behaviour as the males and vice versa.

Negative effects of bullying.

I now turn to take a look at the medical consequences which these employees have faced as a result of their experiences and to look at some other negative effects in respect of bad industrial relations which are more often than not overlooked by employers.


  Cases recorded As %
Losing sense of humour. 8 47.1
Depression 6 35.3
Migraine headaches 6 35.3
Skin disorders (dryness, rashes) 3 17.6
Chest pains 3 17.6
Constant fatigue 4 23.5
Hypertension 4 23.5
Muscular tension and pain 3 17.6
Vomiting at thought of going to work 2 11.8
Diarrhoea 2 11.8
Coughs & Asthma 1 5.9
Abdominal pains 1 5.9


*Fig 8.

It should be viewed by employers in this industry with deep concern that such high levels of ill health are being reported in such a small sample of people, as with time all these symptoms will worsen and result in significant costs in relation to sickness payments. This is in addition to inefficiency which is heightened by having to replace employees on days, weeks or months when they fall sick. It also goes without saying that if allowed to continue unabated, these workers will either leave prematurely or die prematurely from a stress related ailment such as a heart attack. Indeed, suicide is also commonplace in people who are deep in depression.

These are the realities of bullying and stress at work which we see and can easily measure. Much of the information that I have been volunteered by employees in the retail trade has been volunteered only with the guarantee of absolute confidence of anonymity but I have to say that I am not aware of any major employer in the retail food sector which was not affected by this blight.

In order to fully appreciate the data which I am now going to present in relation to staff morale, it is perhaps useful to present it in contrast to questionnaires which were returned claiming that there was no problem with bullying. I am able to communicate that I am aware many of these 13 questionnaires were returned from an independent Co-operative society in the South of England which has an anti bullying policy that is enforced both by progressive management and strong trade union representation from a capable team of shop stewards and a full time trade union convenor.

I asked in the questionnaire whether there was a specific policy to tackle bullying as opposed to just sexual or racial harassment, to which there was a marked difference in responses between the two groups of employees. The data is outlined in the two contrasting tables below.


  Total As %
Yes there is a policy and it is enforced. 3 17.6
Yes there is a policy but it is not enforced 5 29.4
Yes there is a policy, no comment to enforcement 2 11.8
Don’t know whether there is a policy, if so it is not enforced 2 11.8
Don’t know whether there is a policy, no comment to enforcement 4 23.5
No there is no special policy. Harassment policies are not enforced 1 5.9
Total Replies. 17 100


*Fig 9. NB: Table above relates to stores with a bullying problem.


  Total As %
Yes there is a policy and it is enforced 5 38.5
No Answer Given. 6 46.2
Don’t know whether there is a policy, no comment to enforcement 2 15.4
Total. Replies. 13 100


*Fig 10 NB: Table above relates to stores without a bullying problem.

The first item we must note is the difference in numbers stating the policy is enforced, being over twice as high in percentage terms in the second table. We should also note the fact that in the first table, although responses were negative, all the employees responding took the time to answer this part of the questionnaire. This in contrast to the second group where morale would appear to be either much higher or at least showed that harassment policies were of such little personal importance that they didn’t take the time to complete this part of the questionnaire.

Turning to the question in which I asked people completing the forms whether their employer provided counselling for either the victim or the bully it is notable that this too was not touched by those stores which reported that there was no problem. In contrast, the 17 responses from stores with a problem all responded in the form that is outlined in the table below.


  Total As %
Counselling provided for victim 2 10
No counselling provided for victim 11 55
Counselling provided for bully 3 15
No counselling provided for bully 4 20
Total Response. 20 100


*Fig 11.

Out of 30 questionnaires returned, 17 did not respond to the question of whether counselling was provided for victims or perpetrators of bullying, 13 of which were from those claiming that there was no problem with bullying. The data in this respect has also been rather confused as many retailers refer to disciplinary training as ‘counselling’ and it would appear that in some of these questionnaires the person indicated in some of the comments which were made that they did not understand the question which was being asked. What was absolutely clear however in stores where there was a bullying problem was that there was a marked feeling of resentment as to the way in which the employer was treating their complaints.

These feelings were further expressed by comments and sentiments, some of which I quote below:

"It is actually listed as a matter of gross misconduct in the new company handbook and that could result in dismissal. However most members of staff accept day to day bullying, usually by store management" This person went on to say "Unfortunately the company only recognise bullying in their handbook. They always stand up for their own (controllers)"

"Apparently he had trouble at the store he had come from and was allowed to get away with it for 15 years. I understand when he left the company he was paid off with quite a lot of money which I think is disgusting as the man did wrong and was not punished. At all!"

"Bullying by managers is endemic, from top to bottom in a cascade. In two cases known to USDAW, one night manager was sacked and one demoted, both for bullying. All too often employees are too scared of reprisals to make an official complaint". This person went on to provide no fewer than 7 case studies of horrendous bullying which had taken place at this store.

There were many comments of this nature and taken together with other responses to questions in the questionnaire, one could gain a clear and decisive insight to staff morale in workplaces where a bully was in evidence. A total of 10 questionnaires stated that various employees had resigned their positions as a result of bullying and the numbers quoted ranged from "at least one" to "perhaps 10 over 3 years". Other responses were less specific and merely stated that "quite a few" people had resigned.

Employers should recognise that when a bullied employee leaves their organisation, they take with them their bitter memories to their next employer. This will in all certainty gain the prior employer a bad reputation as a hostile workplace and will therefore make recruitment significantly more difficult and this in turn will lead to a skills shortage within the workforce.

The effects of trade union representation in the workplace.

Perhaps one of the most significant findings was the positive effect that trade union participation is having in workplaces where bullying is taking place. It would appear that where there is trade union participation, the problem tends to have a significantly higher chance of being permanently resolved as is shown in the table below.


  Resolved Unresolved Temp Resolved Total As %
Union Only informed. 1     1 5.6
Union and employer informed 6 1 1 8 44.4
Employer only informed 1 4 1 6 33.3
Nobody informed   3   3 16.7
Total 8 8 2 18 100


*Fig 12.

The table above shows clearly that in only 1 case in which the union was involved out of a total of 9 were they unsuccessful in resolving the matter, although one further case was only temporarily resolved.

In contrast to figures for trade union intervention however, All cases in which only the employer were informed, save for one, the bullying would appear to have continued, although in one case it did cease temporarily. Where the employer did unilaterally manage to stop a case of bullying, the woman concerned noted on her questionnaire "I dealt with it myself (went to the manager) who made sure I was treated right. But he also was aware I was a union member".

I feel there are lessons in these figures for both employers and trade unions alike which need to be noted carefully. Employers need to note that trade unions can provide a valuable link between their employees and line management. Unfortunately there is still a master/servant mentality in the UK and employees will often be very nervous in relation to raising grievances with management. Employers need therefore to recognise the value of trade unions in raising issues and providing enough confidence within the work-force for them to ‘out’ a bad boss.

Both Trade Unions and employers need to learn lessons from the temporary resolved column. When a case of workplace bullying is identified both the union and the employer should closely monitor the workplace concerned for some time after.

Employers have to learn that it is not enough to make a policy statement, they also have to create a working environment in which both bullies and victims know the company will act decisively, In short, the key word to success is ‘certainty’.

Chapter 6. Uniting employers and employees against workplace bullying.

We have looked at the statistics, the case studies and the comments from bullied employees and I suspect few would argue that the sooner this problem is addressed the better. In order to do this however, it is necessary to identify problem areas and develop strategies for dealing with them.

According to the Industrial Relations expert Ultan Courtney of IBEC, bullying can not be pinned onto any particular type of business. The one thing that these companies which have a bullying problem do have in common is a culture of loose management control and particularly at risk are those which have no qualified personnel people or those which do not operate on an open door basis.

Unfortunately, part of the problem is in the attitudes of senior management within the organisations where bullies are employed. The unfortunate truth is that many of these managers have entered senior management positions straight from university and have therefore never experienced or witnessed bullying while at work. Comments such as "I cant believe that about George", "What did you do to upset him?", or "No Ime sorry, I don’t believe that has happened" are all regularly complained about by whistle blowing employees. Indeed, a case I dealt with as a trade union activist in which a young checkout operator wet herself whilst sat on the checkouts of a large superstore as she was too frightened to ask her bullying supervisor to release her to go to the lavatory was greeted with complete disbelief by the personnel department and Senior Regional Manager. This is clearly illustrated by the questionnaire respondent who said "she gets away with it all of the time, she victimises young employees but management cant see that she causes the problems".

Some managers believe that when a complaint of workplace bullying is lodged, that this is no more than an autocratic manager squeezing the last drop of extra performance and production out of the employee. Contrary to what any manager may believe, this attitude does not go unnoticed by the workforce and in order to illustrate this I could do no better than to quote a questionnaire respondent who said: "most senior (company name) managers seem to get a kick out of bullying their employees, they think this is the best way to get them to do more".

Mike McDonnell of the Institute of Personnel Management however has gone on record as stating that attitudes are now changing. Mr McDonnell stated in Management Magazine that "What might have been seen as a rite of passage in the past now has no place in the modern workplace. What may have been seen as a norm in a single sex environment has to be tempered, behaviour has to be changed. The test is that if people find certain behaviour unacceptable, then it is unacceptable. Many bullies may not be aware that what they are doing is wrong. Maybe nobody communicated the ground rules to them".

Working towards a healthy organisation.

The health of an organisation is not concerned with the bottom line of a balance sheet, even though when healthy it can contribute to it, but about working towards a happy, committed and secure workforce. Such an organisation would ensure that harassment was alien to each workplace by having in place, anti harassment policies and a culture in which any employee feels secure in blowing the whistle on a bully.

The atmosphere in which an employee feels confident about exposing a bully is absolutely critical to tackling this problem and can not be over estimated. Indeed one questionnaire respondent noted that the bullied employee didn’t report the incident specifically because she was "afraid of management and thought that she would be bullied even more".

In the workplace as in the school playground this theory is borne out, the thing that is feared most of all by bullies is exposure to authority figures.

This is not an isolated view, indeed many criminologists believe that a policy which increases the chances of detection of a criminal would be more effective than a policy of simply increasing sentences. Many argue that part of the reason why car crime is so high in the UK is that car thieves are justifiably confident that they are unlikely to be apprehended if they are not caught in the act.

The most successful managers are those which are able to maintain a working environment which fosters trust, honesty and other positive attitudes amongst their workforce. Although these are not easy goals to attain when taking into consideration their own problems, they are necessary if the organisation is to thrive. Management would do well to remember that they have enough conflict and competition in the marketplace with their competitors, and if they are to gain a competitive edge against these competitors they need support and not conflict and negativity with their staff.

It is not possible to completely eliminate all possibilities of bullying in the workplace. In the words of Randall (Adult bullying: perpetrators & victims P.107) "the motivations for bullying are too complex, numerous and diverse for any organisation to be completely free of such behaviour". Although this is the case however, it is possible for an employer to significantly reduce the likelihood of this behaviour occurring and to detect such behaviour at a much earlier stage.

Recruitment of personnel.

Prevention is always better than cure and so employers should generally seek to avoid bringing bullies into their organisations in the first place. Employers should remember that they have a legal duty of care and a duty to provide a safe system of work. A forward thinking employer who wishes to reduce the incidents of bullying should therefore consider the personality of the persons which they are interviewing in relation to their abilities to communicate positively; rather than simply assessing their skills for carrying out the manual role which the employer wishes to employ them in. It is a short-sighted strategy to speed up the selection process in order to appoint a person onto a team, simply because they are falling behind with their orders, as it is likely that an appointed bully will cause even greater production problems in the future.

Training and support of employees.

In a healthy organisation, the employer will ensure that all employees would attend an induction seminar with a qualified trainer from outside of the specific workplace. The induction seminar should include training in relation to the organisations equal opportunities and anti harassment policies, within which bullying is specifically mentioned as being considered a matter of gross misconduct. Staff should further be provided with written information at this seminar as to whom to contact should they run into problems of this nature and this should be re-issued on a regular basis by providing a note in the wage packet of the employee.

The Anti harassment policy should make clear what the warning signs of bully/victim relationships are so that employees will recognise them before the situation festers. Where appropriate, the employee should also know where to report bullying incidents and warning signs in complete confidence and without threat to their future prospects in the organisation.

The Caring Organisation.

The message that the organisation cares, where it is understood to be more than simple rhetoric, has very positive pay offs in respect of higher production, motivated and committed workforce who ‘sell’ the companies service to the customer, lower sickness levels and ultimately higher profits.

In this respect, ALL employers should seek to introduce external Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) which can offer therapeutic counselling to employees who are the victim of harassment, including workplace bullying. The tight confidentiality rules of these programs will ensure the confidence of the workplace to discuss these problems with qualified counsellors who can defuse potentially damaging problems before they get out of hand.

It goes without saying that an identified victim of workplace bullying should receive adequate counselling in terms of both quantity and quality. Employers wishing to ‘penny pinch’ in this area could find their cost saving to be short term in the event that the employee were to pursue a personal injury claim.

The importance of providing counselling for the bully should not be underestimated. In organisations where ‘macho management’ has been the favoured style of management, such behaviour may have previously been considered appropriate. Counselling will often force a bully to face up to the dysfunctional effect that their behaviour is having on other team members who have become their victims and as any psychologist will confirm, acceptance is three quarters of the battle in curing the patient.

Another service often offered by EAP programs is in training the employers staff in assertiveness skills which are highly effective in combating workplace bullying. Many victims of workplace bullies do not lack the assertiveness to confront their tormentors, they simply do not possess the skills to do so effectively.

Confrontation can often be extremely traumatic for bullies as they lack control of their own behaviour they are often devastated to have those controls imposed on them by another person, especially where that person has been a victim. This asserted control often makes them retreat from such control. This does not prevent them from bullying others but it is likely to make them move their attentions to another victim.

As Randall points out in ‘Adult Bullying: Perpetrators & Victims P135’, "The satisfactory and succinct opening remark can immediately set an external control ‘I am sorry you feel the need to humiliate me in public but I will not tolerate it and it has no place in this organisation’ Notice how this comment achieves a number of hits on the bully. First it indicates that there is no obvious reason and therefore there must be a personal need; second it makes clear that the victim is no longer prepared to accept the behaviour; and third it intimates that the organisation as a whole has no use or place for such behaviour".

This type of strategy can only be effective however where the body language of the victim does not contradict the message which they are verbally delivering to the bully, as a bully is often able to sense fear just as efficiently as any dog. The victim should therefore closely monitor their posture, tone of voice, shifting eye contact or any other form of body language which may lead the bully to believe their victim does not have the necessary self confidence to see out the confrontation. It should be remembered that if a bully wins the confrontation at this stage, it will be difficult for the victim to recapture control of the situation in the future.

As can be seen, the possibilities for assertiveness training in relation to combating workplace bullying are endless.

Bullying is recognised and condemned by the Institute of Personnel Management who have offered the following advice to employers:

Check what the atmosphere is like in various departments or sections. If the atmosphere has changed suddenly for no apparent reason, it could be bullying.

The possibility that a very effective manager may also be an inveterate bully should never be forgotten.

Where absenteeism, poor work performance or repeated minor illnesses occur, bullying should be considered as a possible cause.

Companies should have effective grievance procedures which address complaints of bullying adequately while still recognising that a victim can use an allegation of bullying to mask their own deficiencies.

Employers should create an environment in the workplace where bullying is positively discouraged and frowned upon rather than condoned.

Where a complaint of bullying has been upheld, the person concerned should be disciplined and effectively monitored afterwards.

Not withstanding certain reservations about the fourth piece of advice, which if abused, is an excellent escape clause for a bully and an employer to remain in denial, all of this advice is highly commendable and employers should ignore this advice at their peril.


In Conclusion, I hope that I have shown that bullying at work is not only undesirable, but its costs are also unacceptable.

Employers should learn that it is only when they take an interest in the goals and aspirations of their individual employees will those employees take an interest in the goals of the organisation and that bullying employees destroy justice and fairness in the workplace and replace it with iniquity and strife.

I can think of no better way to end this report than stating the feelings expressed by one questionnaire respondent when she stated "If the bullies could only see what the victim is going through, perhaps it might make them change their attitude so they can become a better person".

Sometimes the simplest comments say all that is needed to be said.


Management Magazine.

Adult Bullying. Perpetrators and Victims. Peter Randall.

Stress and Employer Liability. Cary Cooper & Jill Earnshaw.

Appendix 1.

Workplace Bullying Questionnaire.

1. What is your sex?

Male ð 1

Female ð 2

2. Have you ever been the victim of workplace bullying?

Yes ð 3

No ð 4

3. Have you ever witnessed somebody else being bullied at work?

Yes ð 5

No ð 6

4. If the answer to question 2 or 3 is yes, what sex was the bully?

Male ð 7

Female ð 8

5. If the answer to question 2 or 3 is yes, what position did the bully hold in the company in relation to the victim?

a. Bully holds position of authority over the victim. ð 9

b. Colleague of same or similar level. ð 10

c. Victim holds position of authority over the bully. ð 11

6. If the answer to question 2 or 3 is yes, what event do you feel sparked the bullying off?

a. Arrival of a new manager ð 12

b. Promotion of a new manager. ð 13

c. Introduction of a new working practice (please specify) ð 14

d. Another reason. (please specify) ð 15 -18


7 If the answer to question 2 or 3 is yes, what form or forms did this bullying take?

a. Public humiliation. ð 19

b. Physical assault. ð 20

c. Being aggressively shouted at or. ð 21

d. Deliberately overloaded with work in order to be set up to fail. ð 22

e. Unjustifiable discipline. ð 23

f. Deliberate exclusion from any social gathering. ð 24

g. Spreading of malicious gossip or rumour. ð 25

h. Constant insults. ð 26

I. Consistently being insulted. ð 27

j. Bully telephoning the victim at home in order to intimidate further. ð 28

k. cancelling of holidays for no good reason. ð 29

l. Being singled out for change in duties and/or hours for no good reason. ð 30

m. Sexual harassment. ð 31

n. Racial harassment ð 32

m. other. (As this list can never be exhaustive, please specify) ð 33-43

8 If you have been a victim of workplace bullying, did you experience any of the complaints outlined below following the bullying? If so, please indicate which.

Hypertension (high blood pressure) ð 50 Colitis ð 59

Depression ð 51 Peptic ulcers due to heartburn ð 60

Constipation ð 52 Migraine headaches. ð 61

flatulence and indigestion ð 53 Muscular tension and pain ð 62

Loss of sense of humour. ð 54 Chest pains. ð 63

Coughs and asthma. ð 55 Abdominal pains. ð 64

Diarrhoea ð 56 Over frequent urination. ð 65

Irregular periods (if female) ð 57 Constantly feeling tiredness. ð 66

skin disorders (dryness and rashes) ð 58 Vomiting at thought of going to work.ð 67

Others (please specify:

9 Where there has been workplace bullying, were there any complaints made about the bully to

a. More senior company management or Personnel department? ð 81

Yes ð 82

No ð 83

b. Trade Union? ð 84

Yes ð 85

No. ð 86

10. If the answer to either question 9 is no, Please specify the reason if you know it.

11. If the answer to question 9 is yes, were your complaints taken seriously and acted upon by either party? If not, were you given an acceptable explanation as to the reasons why?

Yes ð 91

No ð 92

12. Does your employer have a specific procedure to tackle workplace bullying (as opposed to Sexual or Racial harassment)?

Yes ð 93

No ð 94

Don’t Know ð 95

13. If the answer to question 12 is yes, does the employer:

Enforce the policy? ð 96

Pay lip service to the policy? ð 97

14. Are you aware of any examples of the company giving lip service to an anti bullying policy? Please give examples.

15. Where workplace bullying has been identified to the employer has that employer provided counselling to

a: the victim of bullying? Yes ð 106 No ð 107

b The bully? Yes ð 108 No ð 109

16. Are you aware of anybody at the workplace leaving employment as a result of the bullying? If so please give an indication of how many.

17. If you feel able to give any examples of bullying, please do so below. Specific case studies will be exceedingly helpful in order to show the extent and severity of the problem. Please continue on a separate sheet of paper (s) if necessary.

18 Any further comments, feelings, suggestions or observations?



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