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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 August, 2004, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Bullied workers suffer 'battle stress'
By Julian Knight
BBC News Online personal finance reporter

Battlefield scene
It's a battle out there for British workers

What do soldiers under fire and bullied workers have in common?

Not much, you may think.

However research from a leading psychologist suggests that bullied workers go through the very same emotions and stresses as battle-scarred troopers.

Dr Noreen Tehrani has counselled victims of the troubles in Northern Ireland, soldiers returning from combat overseas and victims of workplace bullying.

"The symptoms displayed by people who have been in conflict situations and workplaces where bullying happens are strikingly similar," Dr Tehrani told BBC News Online.

"Both groups suffer nightmares, are jumpy and seem fuelled by too much adrenaline.

"In addition, they show greater susceptibility to illnesses, heart disease and alcoholism."

The favoured definition of bullying amongst psychologists is persistent devaluing demeaning or harassing of someone at work.


To back up her years of experience, Dr Tehrani conducted a study of 165 professionals in the caring sector such as nurses and social workers.

Bullying managers grab the headlines but it also occurs between people on the same grade or even on occasions subordinates can intimidate their boss
Dr Noreen Tehrani, Psychologist

Dr Tehrani found that 36% of the men and 42% of the women reported having experienced bullying.

Overall, one in five people exhibited the main symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

According to Dr Tehrani, the three signs of PTSD are hyper arousal, a feeling of constant anxiety and over-vigilance; avoidance of anything to do with the traumatising event; and re-experiencing, in which subjects suffer flashbacks or obsessive thoughts concerning the trauma.

Early signs of workplace bullying are sickness and absenteeism, Dr Tehrani added.

Inflict pain

Bullying can take many forms from malicious gossiping to overt physical violence.

"Generally, male bullies indulge in quite physical and loud verbal bullying," said Dr Tehrani.

"Female bullies favour a strictly psychological approach to inflicting pain on others such as gossip and persistent criticism."

Interestingly, the image of the bullying boss terrorising staff doesn't paint the whole picture.

"Bullying managers grab the headlines, but it also occurs between people on the same grade or even on occasions subordinates can intimidate their boss."


There are no hard and fast estimates as to how much workplace bullying costs the UK economy.

Sorting office
The Royal Mail is facing up to the bullies
However, research conducted for the British Occupational Health Research Foundation (BOHRF) by the Lancaster University Management School and UMIST in 2002 suggested that bullying in the UK workplace is rife.

The research found that one in 10 people had been bullied at work within the previous six months.

Bullied employees take, on average, seven days per year more sick leave than others.

"The cost to firms must be astronomical, many millions of pounds, and that doesn't include the mental impact on workers," said Professor Cary Cooper, co-author of the study.

In addition, it appears that bullying can have a negative impact on observers.

"Our research showed that witnesses to the bullying suffered many of the same mental problems as the people being bullied," said Professor Cooper.

Public spectre

Bullying was found to be particularly prevalent in the police, prison service, teaching and healthcare professions.

The government is so worried about the problem of bullying in the public sector that is has given the Amicus trade union 1m to conduct research into its causes.

Ending bullying brings huge advantages for us, it should reduce absenteeism and boost productivity
Christine Gregory, Royal Mail

Patricia Hewitt, Trade and Industry Secretary, called workplace bullying "a terrible issue with terrible consequences".

The BOHRF study singled out the postal service as a hotbed of workplace bullying.

Stung by the findings, Allan Leighton, Royal Mail chairman, launched a programme in January 2003 to stamp out bullying amongst the firms 200,000 staff.

"Quite frankly I've been appalled by the cases of bullying I have heard about since I joined Royal Mail. These have been some of the worst cases I have heard about in my working life. There can be no excuses," Mr Leighton said at the time.

A crack squad of harassment investigators and a 24 hour bullying helpline were set up by the Royal Mail.

"We recognised that we had a problem and that a change in culture was needed," Christine Gregory, Royal Mail spokeswoman, told BBC News Online.

"Ending bullying brings huge advantages for us, it should reduce absenteeism and boost productivity.

"Above all, creating an environment of respect helps make us a good place to work."

Your comments:

I was bullied by a manager in a previous job. I would get very upset about what was said or done by her, and then I would try and forget about it. I approached my Trade Union representative, who was very supportive. I felt better having someone that I could talk to. I eventually found the bullying too much, and resigned from that job two years ago. It isn't an experience that I have been able to forget, but fortunately my current manager is not a bully at all.
s, Brighton

I experienced quite a demoralising time working for a female boss who decided to take out her own personal problems out on me. She was going through some sort of drug therapy to help her conceive a baby, and it was really her last real shot of having one (she was 39 at the time). The extra hormones, tests and even anti-depressants that she was prescribed made her the most difficult person to work with. She belittled me in front of other team members, was extremely sarcastic and passive aggressive towards me. What made it worse was that the team leader was prepared to defend her behaviour because she was going through a "tough time". I subsequently left the company after I was accused of being negative towards her. I also felt I had no option but to leave because I felt undervalued, demoralised and very angry. On reflection I felt like I had emerged from a very traumatic and stressful time. I was consumed with an obsession to talk about it and even now I would walk right past her in the street because I would find it too emotional to talk to her. At the end of the day people leave jobs because of other people. Companies need to prevent power hungry bosses and even same grade co-workers from inflicting their personal issues on their staff. People go to work out of necessity and choice, and not to get bullied and attacked by people they have no "real" relationship with. Like they guy from The Office said: "we just tread the same piece of carpet"
City girl, London

I was a teacher/team leader in a prison and when the education contract was taken over by a new provider, we lost our very competent manager and 'gained' someone who destroyed the department within weeks of arrival. Two of my colleagues needed medical treatment as a result of the new managers actions and a number of people needed anti-depressants and took many weeks in sick leave due to stress (I was one of them). Staff regularly broke down in tears and classes were disrupted as staff were absent or unable to work that session (to say nothing of the security risks of such an environment). Financially, it was an enormous expense in sick cover, legal action and rapid staff turnover. In terms of health, the cost was incalculable. The two ex-colleagues who needed medical treatment will never be able to work properly again. The families of the bullied staff also suffered illness and stress, in one case leading to the wife of one of my colleagues needing to take sick leave from her own job. Workplace bullying has an immeasurable impact on health, families and business in general. Properly conducted and funded research and action in this area can only be of benefit to us all.
Jane, Germany

Anybody who suggests that "bullied" workers suffer the same as our armed forces under fire has obviously never had to experience it. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is yet another over exaggerated "illness" - if you can't stand the heat - get out of the kitchen.
Phil, Manchester, UK

I can empathise with the comments in your article and from other correspondents, especially City Girl, London. Several years ago, I worked for a large public sector organisation in southern England. I had a fascinating and fulfilling job which sometimes also took me overseas. Unfortunately, my line manager, who appears to have been undergoing a personal life crisis at the time, seemed to suddenly take a strong personal dislike to me. This was manifested by disparaging remarks, passive-aggressive behaviour, malicious gossip about me, passing off of ideas generated by me as his own and frequent use of abusive language to myself and others around him. Despite others also being affected by this behaviour and complaints being made, no action other then half-hearted, ineffectual verbal warnings were given. Just before I left, pretty much as a direct result of his behaviour, he had even co-opted a colleague to participate in making me feel completely ostracised from his team. I left a job which I loved with excellent future prospects. Something which I still feel a lot of resentment towards both my ex-boss and to the management tier above him which utterly failed in their duty of HR management. As for the government preaching to companies about putting a stop to workplace bullying, I would have to say to them to put their own house in order first. I'm sure a lot of other former and current civil servants would agree.
Robert, Leeds, UK

If bullies are allowed to go on, they wreck people's minds, and make life miserable. Just like their own pathetic miserable lives. The best response to bullying is to expose them for what they are, useless, degrading rubbish individuals.
Sarah, Toronto, Canada

Bullying at work is disgraceful and employers should do all they can to protect employees. However, the government is doing everything it can to hinder employers. Employers are expected to protect the rights of those doing the bullying as much as those being bullied. As an employer I feel it is time that Employment Tribunals recognised the obligations of employers to protect employees from bullies. Employers should have an automatic defence if they can show that some has been guilty of bullying.
Andrew, Glasgow, UK

I have been bullied by a female boss but no one else could see it because it was done behind closed doors and through persistent criticism and inducing a feeling in me that I was no good at my job, a failure. It's very hard to stamp out this sort of bullying because the victim will not be believed and is always cast in a bad light. There is a lot of this in the profession I work in - market research. Surprising? We are supposed to be objective and open minded but in this business, sexism, racism and egotism among bosses is rife. I have had 3 sexist bosses one of whom was also racist.
Anne, Kent, UK

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