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Jamie Cross

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Workplace bullying on the rise – take control


Workplace bullying is on the rise thanks to the effects of the recession, but there are some key self defence tactics employees can use to beat the office bullies, reports Jamie-Natalie Cross.

Reports of workplace bullying have doubled over the past ten years and more than one in three employees have fallen victim to intimidation in the workplace in the past six months, according to figures from public sector union Unison.

“In the current financial climate there is extra pressure on managers and workers to get results, which has led to more aggressive targets, increased pressure, more criticism of co-workers and a very real concern for job security”, says Dr Daniel Scott, author of ‘Verbal Self Defence in The Workplace’.

With unemployment on the increase, tensions within the workplace are at an all-time high as people grapple for jobs. Instead of viewing each other as colleagues, some employees now view their co-workers as competitors and may deliberately attempt to boycott each others’ credibility at work.

"Some bullies, particularly in line-management positions, see the current financial climate as justification to give co-workers a hard time”, says Dr Scott. “They’ll use people’s fear of losing their jobs as a stick to beat them with and may even decide to ‘clear out the trash’ by making their target’s work-life hell".

For those currently experiencing workplace bullying, Dr Scott recommends adopting five key tactics to combat the situation.

1. Say nothing:  To achieve stoic entrenchment you must be unwilling to communicate – if this is done the imbalance of conversational power will begin to shift. A person cannot control a conversation if no one responds
2. Withdraw gracefully: Try to create a predetermined excuse so, when it’s necessary, you can leave a situation or conversation that is becoming increasingly difficult
3. Show positive intent: When the focal point of a conversation is the bully’s ‘problem’ with you, try to shift this by analysing their bullying behaviour and changing the direction of the conversation towards what they really want
4. Set compliance conditions: Any time a bully gives one of their ‘problems’, use a conditional closing statement to help resolve the issue if they agree to change their bullying behaviour in some way. For example: “So, if I do this [insert what they want], then you agree to do this [insert what you want]?”
5. Turn their behaviour back on them: When a bully refuses to acknowledge the existence of a problem it may be necessary to bring the behaviour out in the open by labelling it in such a way that it would hurt their self image. However, try not to be rude or unprofessional; for example: "I really believe that telling everyone in the office I steal stuff when it’s not true is very childish and immature. Why do you need to be like that?" This will put them in the spotlight and people will expect a response

Bullying is not something to be taken lightly, whether you are at primary school or at work and age has no bearing on its effects. It can lead to stress, affecting your ability to work efficiently and can often lead to individuals avoiding work altogether.

Don’t be afraid to report a situation to your employer as he or she has responsibility to investigate any complaint of bullying. Many work places have policies aimed at preventing bullying and harassment at work; they have a duty of care and are liable for the actions of their employees. If you are being bullied, it is within your grasp to prevent it.

4 Responses

  1. Is it work or personal?

    Wonderful post, which I am sure many would appreciate in current times.

    I have had to counsel many victims myself during my career and sadly, with little effect in saving their job. Almost all involved cases of bullying by their boss, which is far more complicated and sensitive than those bullying or harrasment by peers. 

    Most of the bullying was connected with a "psycho-social" problem stemming from a one-sided dimension – the leader. No matter how you see it (in the strong power-distance culture), the problem lies with the boss -unreasonable expectations without due consideration to competency capability or other resource constraints. When the pressure to deliver or fulfill task expectations fall short things turn for the worse on the relationship side. Patience wears thin and situation become more emotional, thereby invoking negative thoughts/remarks that slowly eats into the subordinate’s "asset" value. Eventually, the boss begins to experience the "Amydala Hijack" at every encounter to exert the pressure. If nothing proactive happens in resolving the issue at the professional level, the "problem" child image is strengthened and absorbed into long term memory, gradually gravitating towards victimisation, bullying, harassment and even public humiliation. It goes on build up the stress level, until either the Boss or Victim achieves "enlightenment" over their fate. 

    I look forward to Charlie’s article on combating bullying by bosses and hope it reaches beyond the usual "escalatory" process. I am thinking, "Is there a way to build in measures to catch and snip the early signs before it mutates!". We know it’s one of those age old subtle yet invisible traits of power that has survived despite the explosion of new information on how to manage people.   

  2. Good point Hazel

    Hi Hazel,


    Thanks for commenting – you’re right, this is something we should look into. We will make sure we do an article on that very subject as soon as possible, so look out for it.


    Warm regards,

    Charlie Duff


  3. Useful, but what about a bullying boss?


    Very useful if you are dealing with bullying issues, or being bullied by a peer, however strategies on how to deal with a bullying boss are not always so clear cut.


  4. Really useful post

    Jamie, really useful post, thanks for taking the time for that.

    Some very handy advice in their I shall be passing on to friends encountering this kind of workplace attitude. Seems to be happening even within the charity sector through to a friend in Jobcentres, rife throughout the workforce and increasingly showing middle managers as being gutless wonders unable to prevent or stem anything from affecting others who just want to get on in their jobs.




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