Bullying is generally understood to be the repeated unpleasant behaviour of one or more individuals towards another person, which is intended to frighten or hurt them, or cause emotional distress.
Far from being something we leave behind at school, most of us will encounter an adult bully at some point in our lives – an intimidating boss, a colleague who makes a point of ignoring us, an aggressive neighbour, even an overbearing relative.
Being bullied can have a big impact on someone’s mental well-being and self-esteem, no matter what their age. It can make them feel powerless and worthless, especially if there is a power imbalance which makes them feel unable to speak out.
There is no legal definition of bullying and it is not a crime in itself. It is, however, unpleasant and unacceptable and, if it is allowed to continue unchecked, can cause long-lasting harm to both the bullied person and the bully.
Harassment and threatening behaviour – two forms of bullying – are against the law.
Bullying at work
Sadly, workplace bullying is far from uncommon, and many adults will leave jobs and careers they enjoy as a result of bullying that is overlooked or treated as a joke.
Bullying behaviour may include unfair treatment, mocking or undermining someone all the time. Often it is a colleague who is the problem, but senior managers may also display aggressive, bullying behaviour towards more junior employees.
Don’t stay quiet if you are being bullied at work – if you leave your job without reporting it, the culprit will simply look around for another target.
Keep a diary with the dates and details of incidents (and any witnesses) and save relevant emails, notes or messages as evidence.
Tell your employer or HR department what has been happening. Employers are responsible for preventing bullying and harassment in the workplace, not least because harassment is illegal under the Equality Act 2010.
If your employer does nothing to resolve the situation, speak to Acas. If you are a member of a Trade Union, speak to your local representative.
It’s not uncommon for adults to find themselves the victim of vicious online abuse.
With cyberbullying means there is no way to avoid the bullies, who may hurl insults and threats at you publicly while often hiding behind anonymity themselves.
If you know the identity of the bully and their behaviour is causing you alarm or distress, keep a copy of the messages or threats and make a complaint to the police. You are being harassed and harassment is illegal.
Even if you don’t know who the bully is – or suspect who it is but have no proof – you should report any cyberbullying or abuse to the relevant social media site.
Advice and support
Acas has produced guidance for employees who are being bullied at work (and for managers and employers who are faced with dealing with workplace bullying).
Bullies Out offers comprehensive information about bullying in different environments and also has good advice about gaslighting, ghosting, catfishing and doxing.