Are you being bullied at work?

Roshan Doug sets out the telltale signs that you are being victimised or bullied in your workplace

Are you the victim of bullying and harrassment in your workplace?

No one would doubt that the teaching profession is much improved. Most schools and colleges are places where etiquette and professional courtesy dictate our behaviour towards colleagues.

But there are times when some people take advantage of their subordinates, new or less experienced teachers.

In such situations, ignoring an uncomfortable relationship is never the answer – especially as we often blame ourselves before we blame others.


Read more: Why is there still workplace bullying in teaching?

Opinion: 'Bullying is endemic in our profession'

Background: One in 10 FE students witnesses bullying because of sexuality every day, report claims


Telltale signs

So here – especially to new teachers/lecturers – are some telltale signs that you are (probably) being victimised, harassed or bullied at work:

  • If your manager is constantly sending you emails (sometimes out of work hours) demanding administrative work (in one form or another) or is being overly critical of you or your work, it is likely that their behaviour might be bordering on bullying.

Such behaviour is, of course, intrusive and unlawful but the action must have been "sustained over a (prolonged) period of time". Legally, it can be difficult to prove if someone is bullying or is simply an earnest, over-enthusiastic manager.

Of course, managers are there to negotiate your work schedule – it is their job to manage you and your time.

However, overt scrutiny and unregulated or unwanted communication are unacceptable, especially if you feel that the tone of their language is unprofessional, rude or demeaning.

  • If you are, in your opinion – and perhaps in the opinion of other colleagues and managers – unfairly assessed in lesson observations

You should say so and state the reasons for your objections. This is a form of appeal and you are entitled to another, more impartial, observation. And, if the person who observed you was your own line manager, you can request someone else to manage you. Such requests are not uncommon and good management won’t hold it against you.

  • If you have – or have developed – an excessive fear of communicating with a manager because of his/her character or attitude.

This may be a form of intimidation and applies equally to regular, scheduled meetings where you are expected to speak but find the atmosphere cold and unsupportive. It may seem as people are judging you and/or your ability. Undermining of you might also be reflected in how you are rewarded for good work compared to other people doing similar work. Unchecked this may lead to a fear of going to work because you feel unappreciated or worthless.

  • If, as an experienced and/or an overly qualified member of staff, you apply for promotion but are not shortlisted.

This could be perceived as a tacit form of undermining or sidelining you. Senior management’s reluctance to, at the very least, interview you, may also indicate a discriminatory practice. This is not uncommon and you are not paranoid for thinking so. By denying you access for promotion or responsibility, you are being singled out. This, of course, is illegal.

If you believe you are being treated differently – or denied opportunities – because of your race, religion, colour or sex, you can resort to the sex and race discrimination legislation which prohibits employers acting this way.

  • If you have noticed the gradual or sudden loss of self-confidence and find that you are reluctant to voice your opinion in case the management misinterpret it as hostile criticism or treat it with derision.

Not only are you being silenced or intimidated but medical reports suggest that if you don’t address these signs, they are likely to lead to health problems like insomnia, panic attacks, irritable bowel syndrome, hypersensitivity, stress and clinical depression.

So what can you do to avoid such symptoms developing?

Firstly, it is essential that you talk to someone – colleagues, family and friends. Professionals in mental health emphasise how important it is that you don’t suffer alone or in silence. By confiding with others you might discover that other colleagues are experiencing similar treatment perhaps with the same staff.

There are two options: you can leave the place of work and find another post, or you can confront the person(s) concerned.

Even if you are planning to leave, it is always best to address the situation. This is the advice to anyone who is made to feel uncomfortable – never run away from the problem. Always confront the individual(s) head on. Explain how their conduct and/or behaviour is affecting your wellbeing or impacting your health. Be open and frank. But any communication you have should be documented for future reference.

Formal steps

If that does not resolve the problem, the next step is to consult your/their line manager and explain that you would like to put a grievance against the individual(s) concerned. It is vital that throughout this stage, you maintain a good clear set of notes about the background to your grievance. Keeping a diary of incidents is helpful – recordings of what happened, when and how it affected you. Remember, this is the first formal step that could lead to disciplinary, dismal or tribunal and for that reason, you should take advice from an employment lawyer or (at the very least) your union representative.

If, after the grievance, you are not satisfied with the outcome, you can appeal by contacting human resources, which is there to support all members of staff.

If, after the appeal, you decide to go to a tribunal, remember you are taking the college, not the individual manager, to court. Given such a predicament, human resources are unlikely to take sides – they are there to simply present the facts. It’s your lawyer/union who will represent you and argue your case.

Understandably, HR is going to back the college as it is likely that its quality management, systems and procedures will be examined and possibly questioned.

However, more often than not, complaints against an individual(s) do not go this far. They are usually resolved much earlier on. To land yourself in a tribunal, there must be a serious breach of professional conduct, incompetence or negligence – an area your lawyer or union representative will help you to clarify.

The main thing to remember is that there are hundreds of academic staff who put complaints and grievances against colleagues/managers. Going through a disciplinary procedure is not a reflection of your ability, character or competence. Conflict management is part and parcel of your work because you are in the business of dealing with people and differing modes of communication.

Dr Roshan Doug is a visiting professor, strategist and educational consultant at the University of Birmingham

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