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Knowing the signs: How do employees know if they are being bullied?

In its more obvious forms, bullying is clear cut. But there is a grey area between robust management and bullying that's not so easy to assess, even for employees on the receiving end. What should employees consider if they're having difficulties at work and suspect they're being bullied?

It may be hard for an outsider to understand how a victim wouldn't automatically know that they are being bullied. If the bullying behaviour takes the form of an accumulation of tiny unpleasant incidents, it can be difficult for an employee to piece them together into a coherent picture of victimisation.

They may put it down to an unfamiliar workplace culture and imagine that 'perhaps this is normal behaviour here'. They may notice that working relationships feel different from before, that they are being 'singled out' or 'got at' but not quite see why. They may not understand why they are being persistently criticised, even though they know that their standard of work hasn't dropped.

It's helpful to employees if they can consult an organisational statement of standards of behaviour, which should set out clearly what is and isn't acceptable. Talking matters over with a personnel manager, colleagues or with a union representative may put things into context and give a better idea if there's real cause for concern.

Bullying can have serious mental and physical consequences for victims, such as insomnia, nausea, anxiety, angry outbursts, lethargy, depression, loss of self-confidence, and tearfulness, which could give warning that something is wrong.

Employees who think they are being bullied should take action quickly. Acas provides detailed information on Bullying and harassment and has published the Advice leaflet - Bullying and harassment at work: Guidance for employees. They can call the Acas Helpline on 0300 123 1100 to get free expert advice. Acas also offers practical training to give managers, supervisors and HR professionals the skills and confidence to handle inappropriate behaviour and to tackle Bullying and harassment in the workplace.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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