Kieran was once called an Irish fa**ot while being repeatedly punched in the arm.
It was no schoolyard incident – Kieran, a waiter on minimum wage, was carrying a bowl of soup at work when he was attacked by a manager.
It was the sort of thing that happened often, Kieran, a Unite member, recalled of a job he had earlier in his career, when he worked at a French restaurant where managers mercilessly bullied their staff just out of spite.
“Management is in such complete control of every move you make, and most are so scared of losing their jobs, so often people don’t say anything,” he said. “When that incident happened to me, it was before I knew my rights at work. I didn’t know that could be considered assault.”
As part of national Anti-Bullying Week this week, the focus largely remains on bullying at school, but workplace bullying can be just as common, with effects just as insidious.
Research from the TUC found that a full third of all workers have been victims of workplace bullying, with women experiencing it more often than men.
Reflecting Kieran’s experience, the report found that the vast majority of incidents of bullying – more than 70 per cent – were carried out by managers.
Nearly half of those who reported being bullied at work have left their jobs because of it.
Join a trade union
Kieran considers his experience with workplace bullying the catalyst that inspired him to join a trade union.
“Now, when I negotiate with management with the union backing me, the managers treat me with respect; they’re polite to me,” he said. “These were the same people who previously punched and abused me.”
Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland previously explained to UNITElive just how much of a problem workplace bullying can be.
“Bullying is bad for workplaces on every count – it is part of the intensive ‘race to the bottom’ on standards; it demoralises, creates serious stress and mental health issues, and undermines fairness, equality and safety at work,” she said.
“Unite stands for dignity and respect at work and opposition to all forms of bullying, harassment and discrimination.”
In many instances, workplace bullying isn’t as clear-cut as Kieran’s experience – it can sometimes be hard to know whether or not you’re being bullied.
The TUC defines workplace bullying as “offensive, intimidating, malicious, insulting or humiliating behaviour, abuse of power or authority which attempts to undermine an individual or group of employees and which may cause them to suffer stress”.
According to the TUC, bullying isn’t just outright physical or verbal abuse.
Workplace bullying can include scenarios such as when workers who are competent are constantly criticised, have their responsibilities removed or are given trivial tasks.
Regularly and deliberately ignoring or excluding individuals from work activities is also a form of bullying, as is making someone the butt of jokes, or having your views or opinions regularly ignored.
Confronting the bully
Knowing what to do if you’re being bullied can often be tough – the TUC suggests first confronting the bully if you are able to and explain how you feel.
If you aren’t part of a union yet, join one – and if you are, talk to your union rep about what’s been happening.
The TUC also highlights that it is vital to document every instance of bullying you encounter.
“[Documentation] will be important when the bully is confronted,” the TUC guidance on bullying notes. “Many of the incidents may appear trivial in isolation so it is important to establish a pattern over a period of time.”
Although bullying is not illegal per se, Holland told UNITElive that bullying can be found to be unlawful harassment and discrimination against women, black Asian and ethnic minorities, disabled, LGBT, migrant workers, young and older workers and others with protected characteristics.
“[Bullying] is also used to impose unacceptable working practices like zero hours contracts, intensive working times, labour management systems, and increased workload with inadequate training and support,” she added.
Holland noted that trade unions can a help play a vital role in the fight against bullying.
“In union organised workplaces, we need to ensure there are clear commitments and fair procedures to prevent and deal with bullying, backed up by union equality reps with full facilities,” she said.
“Unite supports full statutory rights for all union equality reps and a clear legal right for every worker to be treated with dignity and to be free from bullying at work.”
Are you being bullied in the workplace? Follow the TUC’s guidance on workplace bullying and harassment here.
And if you aren’t yet a union member, it’s worth joining – Unite is actively working to tackle bullying, harassment and discrimination. Find out more here.