Advice for HR teams to help tackle workplace bullying



Read time
12 mins


Bullying in the workplace isn’t just an annoyance — it's a toxic force that can tear down individuals and cripple organisations.

The impact? It's brutal. For individuals, it's a sucker punch to their confidence, leaving them anxious, depressed, and questioning their worth. It's a blow to their productivity, their creativity, and their very sense of belonging. And for organisations, it's a gut punch.

You probably don’t need us to tell you that workplace bullying can:

  • Create a hostile work environment
  • Cause a rise in absenteeism
  • Reduce productivity
  • Cause staff turnover to climb
  • And lead to grievances, and even tribunals, in the most severe cases

What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying encompasses any repeated, unreasonable behaviour that undermines, intimidates, or demeans an individual or group. This includes verbal abuse, threats, exclusion, humiliation, and even sabotage. It doesn’t matter whether you work in the office, or you work remotely. Any employee can experience workplace bullying.

In the eyes of the law and morality, employers have a clear-cut duty to stamp out workplace bullying. It's not just about avoiding employment tribunals — it's about doing what's right. UK employers are legally obligated to provide a safe working environment free from harassment and discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Failure to address bullying behaviour can result in costly legal battles, damaged reputations, and shattered trust.

So let’s look at how to create a kinder workplace by stamping out bullying. Our head of people operations, Gwenan West, also shares her tips throughout.

Six steps to successfully tackle bullying in the workplace

Step 1: create clear anti-workplace bullying policies

Having a solid playbook is essential. That's where comprehensive anti-bullying policies come into play — they're the backbone of a workplace that values respect and integrity.

First things first: clarity is king. Your anti-workplace bullying policies need to leave no room for interpretation. Spell out in black and white what constitutes unacceptable behaviour. Whether it's verbal abuse, intimidation, exclusion, or any other form of harassment, make it crystal clear that there's zero tolerance. Your policies should also map out clear reporting procedures. Give your team the tools they need to speak up — whether it's through anonymous channels or direct communications to HR. Make it easy, make it safe, and make sure they know they'll be heard.

Now, let's talk consequences. Bullies thrive in the shadows, but they wither under the spotlight of accountability. Your policies should lay out the repercussions for anyone that engages in bullying behaviour. Whether it's coaching, disciplinary action, or even termination, make sure they know there are real consequences for their actions.

West says that it is crucial for HR to make sure the right policies are put into place to “create a culture where employees feel like they can speak up if they are being bullied, or if their colleague is being bullied.

“Organisations should have a bullying, harassment, and discrimination policy in place, but it’s not good enough to just have a policy – HR has to live and breathe these policies. By following the policies, HR can create a safe working environment and a positive and open culture where bullies are actually dealt with, and where employees’ mental health doesn’t suffer as a result.”

Step 2: provide training and education

Ongoing training is the key to tackling workplace bullies head-on.

Bullies aren't always easy to spot, but with the right training, your team can become eagle-eyed experts. Teach them to recognise the signs — the subtle digs, the not-so-friendly banter, the exclusionary behaviour.

Prevention is where the real magic happens. Equip your managers and employees with the tools they need to nip bullying in the bud before it takes root. Teach them conflict resolution techniques, communication skills, and the art of empathy. Show them how to build strong, inclusive teams where everyone feels valued and respected.

And training isn't a one-and-done deal. Keep the momentum going with regular workshops, seminars, and refresher courses. Make sure your team stays sharp, stays engaged, and stays committed to building a workplace where bullying has no place.

If you’re struggling to create this content in-house, we offer a range of off-the-shelf eLearning content packs which can be highly customised. The bullying and harassment content pack, for example, explores the significance of bullying and harassment in the workplace, its impact on individuals and organisations, and how to reduce it.

If employees are being bullied by a manager, who may or may not be aware that they are using bullying tactics, West says HR must put relevant training into place. “It’s up to HR to train or re-train managers and to coach them into working and communicating in different ways.”

If managers are not using bullying tactics, training is still just as important, she adds. “Training helps HR provide managers with the tools they need to pick up on any internal issues and to create an open environment where employees can communicate any experiences of workplace bullying. Managers can also understand how they should be speaking to employees and how they should be supporting any unproductive employees.”

Step 3: encourage open communication

Trust is everything. And when it comes to tackling bullying head-on, creating a culture where employees feel safe to speak up is crucial.

Reporting bullying takes guts. It means standing up to intimidation, risking backlash, and putting yourself out there. But here's the thing — no one should ever have to do it alone. That's why creating a culture of trust and transparency is non-negotiable.

Picture this: multiple reporting channels, each one a lifeline for those who need it. Whether it's an anonymous hotline, a suggestion box, or a direct line to HR, every employee should have a way to speak up that feels safe and confidential.

Privacy? It's sacred. When someone speaks up, their trust is on the line. Respect it. Protect it. Keep their identity under lock and key, and make sure they know they're safe in your hands. Creating a culture of trust isn't a one-and-done deal. It's an ongoing commitment — one that requires constant care and attention. That means regular communication, regular training, and regular reinforcement of your zero-tolerance policy.

West says HR professionals who need to tackle workplace bulling should “get to know your managers and your people. Make sure that all anti-bullying messages come from senior leadership; it’s HR’s responsibility to ensure that senior leadership lead by example in stamping out any unacceptable behaviour.”

Step 4: prompt and fair investigations

Swift and impartial action is the name of the game when it comes to investigating reports of bullying.

When someone has the courage to speak up, they're putting their trust in you. Don't let them down. Investigate like your reputation depends on it — because it does. Promptly and impartially, dig deep into the allegations, leaving no stone unturned. Every report deserves a fair shake, every voice deserves to be heard.

Confidentiality? It's non-negotiable. When someone comes forward, their privacy is paramount. Keep their identity under lock and key, and make sure they know their trust is safe in your hands. But don't stop there — extend that same courtesy to everyone involved. Protect their dignity, their reputation, and their right to a fair shake.

And investigations aren't just about finding the truth — they're about delivering justice. That means following the letter of the law, dotting your i's, and crossing your t's. Consult legal experts, follow established procedures, and make sure you're on solid ground every step of the way.

So what about HR? Well, they're the beating heart of the operation. They're the ones leading the charge, conducting thorough investigations, and providing support to everyone involved. From the victim who needs a shoulder to lean on to the perpetrator who needs a wake-up call, HR's got their backs.

“Workplace bullying can have a serious impact on morale,” says West. “If HR teams don’t deal with any cases of bullying, this can create a culture of uncertainty and a lack of trust in your organisation. Employees won’t feel safe and this can affect turnover, your environment, and your reputation as a result.”

Let’s not forget the bigger picture. Investigations aren't just about resolving individual cases — they're about sending a message. A message that bullying won't be tolerated, that justice will be served, and that your organisation stands for integrity, fairness, and accountability.

Step 5: support wellbeing

Let's face it: work can be stressful. Deadlines loom, emails pile up, and the pressure never seems to let up. That's why stress management programmes are worth their weight in gold. Whether it's mental health eLearning, mindfulness workshops, yoga classes, or simply encouraging employees to take regular breaks, these initiatives can work wonders in helping your team navigate the ups and downs of the daily grind.

But stress is just the tip of the iceberg. Mental health is a complex beast, and it deserves serious attention. That means providing access to mental health resources like counselling services, support groups, or online resources gives employees the tools they need to cope with whatever life throws their way.

And let's not forget about work-life balance. In today's always-on world, it's all too easy for work to bleed into every aspect of our lives. But here's the thing: burnt-out employees aren't just less productive — they're downright miserable. That's why initiatives like flexible working hours, remote work options, and generous vacation policies can make all the difference in helping your team find that elusive balance between work and play.

But here's the kicker: promoting employee wellbeing isn't just about checking boxes — it's about living your values. It's about showing your team that you care about more than just the bottom line — that you care about their health, their happiness, and their overall wellbeing.

And who's leading the charge? You guessed it — HR. They're the ones creating a supportive work environment where mental and emotional health are front and centre. They're the ones championing initiatives that make a real difference in the lives of employees. And they're the ones ensuring that your workplace is a place where everyone can thrive — not just survive.

Prioritising employee wellbeing doesn't just mean tackling stress and promoting work-life balance; it's also a key strategy in addressing workplace bullying. When employees feel supported and valued, they're more likely to speak up about instances of bullying they encounter. By prioritising employee wellbeing, HR departments demonstrate a commitment to fostering a respectful and inclusive work environment where bullying is simply not tolerated, creating a safer and healthier workplace for everyone.

Step 6: promote equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I)

Diversity isn't just about ticking boxes or meeting quotas. It's about harnessing the unique perspectives, experiences, and talents of every single person on your team. It's about recognising that our differences make us stronger, more innovative, and more resilient.

Diversity without inclusion is like a cake without icing. It might look good on the surface, but it's missing that special something that makes it truly delicious. That's where HR comes in. They're the architects of inclusion, weaving it into the fabric of your workplace culture through initiatives that promote respect, empathy, and understanding.

Whether it's training programmes that challenge unconscious biases, mentorship programmes that provide support and guidance to underrepresented groups, or affinity groups that provide a space for employees to connect and celebrate their shared identities, HR is at the forefront of creating a workplace where everyone feels like they belong. If you need help, we offer diversity and inclusion training that is designed to give you practical solutions that not only raise awareness but create opportunities for growth.

But it's not just about cultural diversity. It's about recognising and celebrating all forms of diversity — whether it's gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, or disability. It's about creating a workplace where everyone feels seen, heard, and valued for who they are.

And here's the best part: embracing equality and diversity in the workplace isn't just the right thing to do — it's the smart thing to do. It's a powerful tool in tackling workplace bullying. When people from diverse backgrounds feel included and represented, it fosters a culture of acceptance and understanding. It makes it harder for bullies to target others based on differences because those differences are celebrated, not shunned. So, by championing ED&I initiatives, we're not just making our workplace more diverse and inclusive — we're also making it a safer and more respectful environment for everyone.

Harnessing HR's power: combatting workplace bullying with confidence and support

For any employees who are experiencing workplace bullying, West adds: “HR is the best place to turn to; they should listen to your complaints in confidence, be empowered to take action where necessary, and be able to provide you with practical support such as details of national bullying helplines or your organisation’s employee assistance programme (EAP).”

Tackling workplace bullying demands a fearless and strategic approach from HR managers. Lay down clear policies, offer training and support, and create a culture of respect and inclusivity, to build a workplace where bullying isn’t tolerated.

If you’re looking for ways to empower every employee to thrive and drive your organisation to success, we’re here to help. Book a demo of our solutions for more information.