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When we think of people being bullied, we generally think of it happening in schools. But unfortunately, this type of behaviour actually happens in the workplace too.

What would you do if an employee came to you saying that something had really upset them in the workplace, but the “something” they were referring to isn’t anything that would bother you?

Banter or bullying?

There’s a very fine line between these two things. What one person can see as just a harmless joke, could really upset someone else.

Anything that causes someone to feel intimidated, upset, victimised or hurt in any way could be bullying if it happens on more than one occasion.

We don’t have a list of all things that could count as bullying. Yes, there are obvious things like physical assault, name calling, playing practical jokes on the same person all the time etc., however it doesn’t mean that it’s only these things that count.

Joking around with someone or just generally taking the micky out of them could actually be doing a lot of damage to that person’s mental health.

How could this happen in this day and age?

The workplace is now multi-generational and multi-cultural. This means that you have people who grew up in a time where being gay was illegal, some who have experienced segregation, people who have been treated badly because of where they were born, and people who accept diversity as a part of life.

Due to the wide variety of backgrounds, your employees are more than likely going to have opposed views on what’s ok to say to each other. People have different boundaries and different experiences in life. This means that not everyone will be offended by the same thing. Something that you think is an “innocent joke” could be highly offensive to someone else.

Where do I draw the line?

Being the boss means you need to know where to draw the line when it comes to what your employees are doing and saying. It’s not just them that could end up in trouble because of something one of your employees has said or done.

What you need to get across to your employees is that it doesn’t matter how they meant it to come across. It’s how it made the person on the receiving end feel. If they feel that they’ve been discriminated against, or picked on, or singled out, then it’s hard for them to see work as a positive place.

They don’t mind…

Are you sure about that? Just because someone goes along with something doesn’t mean that it’s ok. Sometimes, people will put up with bullying comments or behaviour just because they don’t want to cause a fuss. But just because they haven’t said anything, it doesn’t make it ok.

It’s your responsibility to stop these things from happening and provide ALL of your employees with a working environment where they can feel comfortable.

What would happen if I don’t do anything?

If you choose to ignore things like this and not address them, it can mean that they spiral out of control, the bullying becomes worse, and the effects of the bullying are so bad that the employee no longer feels safe to come to work.

Worst case scenario? The bullying is because of a protected characteristic and your company gets taken to an employment tribunal. There are 9 of these and they include sex, age, race, religion or belief, maternity or pregnancy, marriage or civil partnership, disability, and gender reassignment.

So, what should I do?

Tackle it head on (not literally). Call the individual into a meeting, highlight to them what they have done / said that is wrong, and explain the effects this could have on someone, and outline what you expect to see going forwards.

It could be that you need them to attend some equality and diversity training, or maybe they just didn’t think about how their words or actions impact other people and need a bit of coaching.

We would always advise that you give all of your employees equality and diversity training when they start their employment with you. This will help them to understand what is and what isn’t acceptable in the workplace. It will also give them the guidance they need to bring any concerns to your attention.

Need a hand?

If you’re not sure if it’s banter or bullying, why not give us a call? We can help you to manage your employees and even provide training.  Contact us by email at or by phone on 03300 414589

Check out our online training module Safe to Speak up to help your team build a foundation of trust and psychological safety.

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