Advice hub. Bullying.

Studies show that bullying in the workplace has increased over the past decade, with evidence suggesting that the pressures of Covid, Brexit and the economic downturn have led to increased incidences. It’s no excuse, but because many hospitality businesses have had to adapt to reduced staffing levels, this has meant heavier workloads, longer shifts and higher stress levels among teams, which has arguably triggered more bullying behaviour from individuals who can’t cope.

In short, many bullies aim to undermine those who appear to be more capable than them, by hurting them physically or, more usually, emotionally. Often a person in authority, is using their position to coerce a staff member through fear and persecution. They will criticise a person and their work to gain the upper hand and thus feel more secure. This cycle then perpetuates. Colleagues and peers can also be bullies.

If you are being bullied, rest assured it can happen to anyone or any group, at any level of a hospitality organisation. It frequently involves exploiting another person’s difference and can be anything from race, religion, sexuality, gender, or age, through to appearance, social background, disability, or skillset. Increasingly, it is happening by email, online and via smart phones – known as cyber-bullying – which means it continues outside of the workplace.

The fact that it is often psychological in nature creates fear and anxiety and can have devastating effects on an individual’s self-esteem and physical and mental health. Prolonged bullying erodes your self-confidence and self-worth and can make you feel isolated. It can trigger symptoms ranging from insomnia to nausea and panic attacks. Among some victims, it can lead to depression, burn-out and sometimes even suicide. Bullying can be so undermining that you feel too ashamed to tell anyone. Remember, bullying often happens in private, so others are often not aware of it.

The first thing you need to do is recognise that it is happening and then tap into the support that is out there to stop it.

  • Taking random disciplinary action against you
  • Excluding you from conversations, meetings, projects, social events
  • Making unfounded threats about your job security
  • Spreading rumours
  • Deliberately undermining you in front of a manager
  • Withholding information to make you look stupid
  • Setting you impossible targets and deadlines
  • Blocking promotion or training opportunities

  • Talk to someone you trust - get support and think through your options by confiding in a good friend, colleague, family member or trained counsellor.
  • Gather evidence - record incidents in a journal. This builds evidence that may be useful if you choose to make a complaint or go to tribunal, and it gives you an outlet for your feelings. Keep copies of relevant information such as appraisals or emails. Talk to colleagues and find out if others have received similar treatment.
  • Get informed - check what your employer’s policies are regarding bullying so that you know what procedure to follow. If you are a union member, contact them or get impartial advice from bodies such as ACAS.
  • Raise the issue with management - if it does not feel safe to speak to your manager try speaking to a more senior or alternative manager who feels trustworthy, or approach a member of HR.
  • Avoid being alone with the bully - bullies usually behave worse when they think nobody is watching and this tactic ensures there are witnesses to any future incidents.
  • See your GP - any medical appointments due to resulting poor physical or mental health may be considered if you pursue the matter formally.
  • Cyberbullying - protect yourself by not replying to offensive messages and posts as it can worsen the situation. You can report any abuse to the Internet Service Provider. Do not delete messages, as they can be useful as evidence.
  • Turn to the law - under the Equality Act 2010, an employer can be liable for harassment carried out without its knowledge. Compensation for injury to feelings ranges from £900 for less serious cases up to £45,600. In addition, you may be able to claim compensation for financial loss if, for example, you had to take time off work and lost wages or resigned as a result. Depending on the facts, you may be able to pursue a claim for personal injury.