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Understanding and addressing workplace bullying

Author: Heather Falconer


  • Bullying in the workplace is normally based on a misuse of power. (See What is workplace bullying?)
  • There is evidence that the incidence of workplace bullying is rising, mainly due to changes in working practices and increased economic pressures. (See The prevalence of bullying)
  • Bullying can have a significant impact on the victim's mental and physical health, leading to increased sickness absence and lower productivity. It can also have a negative effect on morale, and may cause the employee to resign. (See The impact of bullying on business)
  • Anti-bullying measures should focus on prevention, which requires everyone in the organisation to be committed to creating a culture of dignity and respect. (See Anti-bullying measures)
  • Employers should establish an anti-bullying policy that articulates their commitment to dignity and respect in the workplace and sets out their approach to preventing and addressing bullying. (See Bullying policy)
  • An anti-bullying policy is of little value unless the organisation communicates its existence and contents effectively to employees at all levels. (See Communicating the bullying policy)
  • Line managers need a wide range of skills to prevent and address bullying, including the ability to communicate, performance manage and deal with conflict. (See Line manager competencies)
  • Employees need to know what their options are if they are being bullied, including informal and formal procedures for making a complaint. (See Reporting procedures)
  • Employers could select and train volunteers from the organisation to provide support and advice to employees dealing with bullying, and to deal with bullying allegations outside the formal procedure. (See Anti-bullying champions)
  • Where an employee makes a complaint of bullying, the organisation should appoint a trained investigator to find out the facts surrounding the complaint. (See Investigating complaints)
  • The most appropriate outcome of a disciplinary hearing dealing with bullying will depend on the circumstances and may be, for example, dismissal, transfer to another role, or training, coaching or mentoring. (See Disciplinary proceedings)
  • Support may be required to help a victim of bullying and, where appropriate, the perpetrator, to enable them to come to terms with what has happened and carry on working. (See Rehabilitation)


This section of the XpertHR good practice manual discusses what workplace bullying means and the business case for eliminating bullying. It explains how to create a workplace culture where people respect and behave appropriately towards one another, minimising the risk of bullying. It also explores reporting procedures for bullying and how to deal with bullying complaints. 

What is workplace bullying?

Acas defines workplace bullying as "offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the person being bullied". The Health and Safety Executive stresses that bullying is a pattern of behaviour rather than isolated instances, and states that it "involves negative behaviour being targeted at an individual, or individuals, repeatedly and persistently over time".