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Workplace bullying

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

"It started out as jokes and jests then escalated into a targeted approach," says Neil Moon. "The impact it had on me was so serious it drove me to try to take my own life."

Forty-six year old Neil was bullied by his co-workers. "It eroded my self-esteem and made me think I would be better off dead than continue to live under the stress that it placed on me."

Bullying doesn’t just happen in childhood, but it’s often the children who were bullies who continue to do so as adults.

Although sometimes it may be a partner, supposed friend, or family member who is doing the bullying, the workplace is often the arena where adult bullies operate.

What is workplace bullying?

Bullying isn’t necessarily about physical violence. It can be excluding a person, ignoring their input, teasing them, belittling them, criticising them, spreading malicious gossip, or giving them too much work or the worst jobs to do.

In Neil’s experience it involved comments and derogatory drawings posted in the canteen and on the toilet walls with more and more people joining in.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), which deals with employment disputes, defines bullying as: "Offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, involving an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient." It offers an advice leaflet for victims of bullying on its website.

Effects on mental health

Workplace bullying can have a direct effect on mental health. The mental health charity Mind defines it as "when someone persistently acts towards you in a way that hurts, criticises or victimises you,"

When you are bullied you start to question your abilities, feel anxious all the time and often want to leave your job to get away from the bullying.

"The physical sensations I felt led me to becoming constantly anxious to the point I couldn’t do my job properly as I was worried about where the next attack was coming from," says Neil.

How common is it?

A 2015 survey by a law firm of 2,000 working Britons revealed that more than 37% of people questioned felt they had been bullied themselves and a further 21% admitted seeing their colleagues being subjected to abuse.

More than half said they didn’t do anything to stop the bullying and a quarter thought it was just part of the culture of their workplace.

The TUC in response to the research called for all organisations to have an anti-bullying policy and wanted a zero tolerance approach towards bullying by line managers or workmates.

Neil complained to his superiors and was told "deal with it yourself".

He says: "It’s changed my view of management procedures and policy. There may be a corporate moral responsibility on paper, but many organisations just pay lip service to it."

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