Ask a counsellor: I’m being bullied at work – what should I do?

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine advises a woman who is being bullied at work.

The problem…

“Since starting a new job eight months ago, I have been bullied and tormented continually by a couple of people in my department.

“It’s often only quick comments about small things, the clothes I am wearing, my make-up, something I say or do in the office – but they are always negative. Sometimes it’s about being left out. For example, if they organise a lunch or after-work get-together, I am never invited.

“I am relatively new to the company and this isn’t helping me to get to know colleagues better. Also, I am often the last to get emails about departmental meetings, which means I am either late or unprepared.

“You’ll probably think this is trivial, but it is really getting me down. I fell stressed all the time and constantly look for ways to be out of the office as much as possible. After leaving university it took me a long time to land this job, it’s a good one and it’s important to me. What should I do?”

Fiona says…

“If this is causing you stress and affecting your performance at work, it is NOT trivial. Bullying, unlike harassment, is not illegal, but it is a huge workplace problem. Sadly, many people are reluctant to deal with it because they are worried about losing their job if they appear to be a trouble-maker. Others simply put up with it hoping it will eventually stop.

“In my experience, however, bullies rarely stop because they lose interest, they stop because their behaviour is challenged. Which leads to my somewhat obvious question, have you asked them to stop? Bullies do what they do because they think their victims are weak. You’re not weak, you’ve studied hard for a degree and worked probably harder still to get this job. A calm show of strength may be all that’s needed to stop the bullying, but if it doesn’t, you should consider talking with your boss or line manager.

“The good news is, companies have a duty of care when it comes to the health, safety and welfare of their employees. Most will have a grievance procedure in place to deal with issues like bullying.

“Make a start by getting a copy of the grievance procedure and then keeping a detailed record of what is said and done, by whom and when. You’ll need this to support your case and make it difficult for the bullies to deny. Then quietly talk with some of your colleagues and see if they have witnessed the bullying or, have experienced it themselves at the hands of these two. It will make a much stronger case if they are able to provide corroborating evidence.

“As a bonus, getting to know them better will make you less of an isolated target for the bullies. When you feel that your incident log is detailed enough, meet with your boss and explain what has been happening.

“Don’t forget to mention how it is affecting you and your performance at work.

If you get a bit emotional throughout this, so be it, but try not to get angry. Hopefully, this should be enough to resolve things but, if not, you’ll need to escalate the complaint further yet, following the company’s formal grievance procedure. Typically, this would involve the HR department and perhaps a union representative as well.”

:: If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

- Press Association

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