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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 February, 2004, 00:00 GMT
Workplace bullying: A growing problem
By Bill Wilson
BBC News Online business reporter

Woman in distress
Bullying can affect both physical and mental health

The common image of workplace bullying may be a manager shouting and bawling at a subordinate, but in reality the targeting is often much more subtle and insidious.

For those at the receiving end of unfair and intimidating working practices it can be a lonely and devastating experience which could ultimately wreck their career, health and family life.

Bullying is a growing problem in the UK workplace.

"We have to recognise that not only is bullying ruining people's lives, it is costing the UK economy millions every year in tribunal payments, legal fees and wasted talent," said Tim Field, who runs the Bully Online website to help past or current bully targets.


Of 5,300 employees in 70 organisations, 47% reported witnessing bullying over a five-year-period, Research by University of Manchester Institution of Science and Technology (Umist) revealed.

One in 10 said they had been bullied in the previous six months and 1 in 4 said they had been bullied since 1995.

Signs of bullying
Constant and trivial criticism
Contribution not recognised
Treated differently from group
Shouted at and threatened
Marginalised, belittled, ignored
Isolated and excluded
Humiliated, abused and embarrassed
Overloaded with responsibility
Given trivial tasks or no work
Unrealistic or changing goals
Having your actions distorted
Being denied adequate leave
Being coerced into leaving job

The project's researcher, Professor Cary Cooper, whose work was backed by the CBI and TUC, said bullying was " an increasing problem in the UK workplace".

And a spokesman for The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said that "if bullying goes on in a workplace then it should be stamped out, there is no place for it in the modern workplace".

Meanwhile the TUC believes that unless the problem is tackled, stress and ill-health can become part of the daily life of those being bullied, resulting in working days lost through sickness.

This is a growing problem that Mr Field knows well.

"Since I set up my website six years ago I have been inundated by people who are suffering at work," he said.

"Every day I am contacted by people who are in a desperate situation, many of them suicidal."

Little legislation

Mr Field believes bullying has grown during the past decade.

I feel I was driven to the breakdown which led to my dismissal on medical grounds, but I was not able to bring my case on the grounds of the bullying I had been subjected to
Teacher Andrew

"Budgets and resources have been cut, meaning people's workloads are getting heavier, and managers are trying to squeeze more out of them." he said.

"Some unscrupulous companies may also mistakenly think it is in their financial interest to shed high-earning, experienced staff."

Mr Field insisted it is difficult to bring bullies to task due to a lack of tough legislation dealing directly with bullying.

A solution might be forthcoming in the form of The Dignity at Work Bill 1997 which has gone through the House of Lords, but has yet to be passed in the Commons and is therefore not law.

Tim Field
Mr Field believes bullying is worse in caring professions

"I think the government is refusing to recognise the issue, leaving the only chance of legislation being introduced through a private members bill," said Mr Field.

"That would have little chance of succeeding even if it got through the lottery of being chosen for going forward in the first place."

But the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) believes "the best place to tackle bullying and bad behaviour is in the workplace".

"As such, the government has invested in a number of best practice initiatives seeking to achieve cultural change within workplaces where potential problems could arise," a spokesman said.

And in January, employment secretary Gerry Sutcliffe told the House of Commons there was also a "safety net" of existing legislation.

Serial bullying

Bullying incidents might seem trivial on their own, but it is the cumulative effect and the wearing down of the victim that causes the anguish.

"It is a form of psychological and emotional violence, it very rarely takes a physical form," said Mr Field.

"There is an unfortunate attitude that you must be weak if you are a target, but the opposite is true.

"People take the pain and suffering for years, all the while trying to take action but finding that nothing works."


Mr Field insisted that in over 90% of cases there is a serial bully in action.

"Sometimes they have a workplace partner of the opposite sex, with whom they form a bullying alliance.

"Usually they have been bullying somewhere else too, and often the management is complicit; bullies are subtle, and they are adept at getting management on their side.

"They will also convince the target's fellow workers to turn a blind eye instead of offering support."

Bullies can be male or female, are often weak individuals, usually incompetent in their jobs, very immature, and inadequate at forming human relations, explained Mr Field.

Troubled sectors

Bullying is most widespread within the caring professions such as teaching, nursing, social services and the voluntary sector, as well as in churches, according to Mr Field.

The problem is also widespread within the uniformed services, the media, the world of finance.

"People who are bullies set power and control as their objectives," he said.

Bullies working within the caring professions often have "power of some sort over vulnerable clients, and also over the vulnerable employees who want to protect those vulnerable clients".

"Money is also in short supply in those industries which means there are added pressures," said Mr Field.

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11 Apr 02  |  Health


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