Challenging Bullying at work

Written by Dr Amy Birch

Bullying can affect staff at every level of institution and from all backgrounds. It involves a misuse of power, and is often perpetrated by managers against staff over whom they have power. There is no statutory definition of bullying, but is defined by ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service as behaviour that:

  • Is offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting
  • Is an abuse of power,
  • Uses means intended to undermine humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.

The higher education environment encourages discussion, debate and critical appraisal. However, this may lead to a situation where behaviours that undermine individuals are more easily justified, whether consciously or unconsciously. Competition within academia, not least the “publish or perish” mentality, and increased workloads may also lead to a culture that masks bullying and aggressive behaviours as affective tactics as high internal competition. However, being aware of these behaviours and feeling confident to challenge them can help to educate all staff that this is not tolerated.

How can you beat bullying at work? Below are some tips of what to do if you face bullying at work:

  • First, don’t blame yourself and do not ignore it – this will only make you feel worse.
  • Keep a record of all events; along with all evidence of negative acts (e.g. email/written correspondence) and any witnesses – if you have a work diary, it is helpful to write specific instances on the days that they happened.
  • Keep a record of how the events are affecting you – how does it make you feel? How does it affect your mental, physical, and emotional health? Does it have any impact on your family/social life?
  • Seek an informal resolution early, where possible – sometimes it is possible to ask the perpetrator to stop. They may not recognise that their behaviours are inappropriate and this may provide a quick and effective resolution. It may be helpful to write down what behaviours you find offensive (avoiding emotive and general comments about the person), what effect they have on you and how you would like this behaviour to change. If appropriate, take a friend or union representative with you but it is advisable to let all parties know that you are going to do this in advance.
  • Discuss your situation with your support network within and outside work:
    • Talk with your local HR advisors, staff representatives, or diversity and inclusion champion
    • Contact the Employee Assistance Programme; this is a service that provides independent, free, confidential advice and guidance on a range of practical issues for staff on both home and work concerns. This service is paid for by King’s College London and is free to all employees.
    • If you are a member of a union, seek advice from a college representative. There will be formal and informal procedures for dealing with the situation. The decision on how to progress rests fully on you; however, it is important that the union is aware of any incidents involving their members.
    • Support is also available from charitable organisations: Mind can offer support via phone (03001233393) and email ( Samaritans are available to talk 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by calling 116123 on any phone.