By Will Bridges

According to a report by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), almost a third of people have at some point in their career experienced bullying or harassment. Yet despite this shocking statistic, the subject isn’t spoken about with the required degree of seriousness, if at all, with many victims finding it hard to speak up and report bullying or harassment to management or Human Resources.

Determining if workplace bullying is taking place can be done by looking at subtle signs from both the suspected bully and the behaviour of the victim. Looking out for the signs of bullying is important; not only to resolve the issue and protect the victim, but also to ensure your employees are working in a supportive, happy and safe environment. Here are seven subtle signs to watch out for.

1. Nasty Remarks

Hearing mean comments or gossip regarding a colleague can be a warning sign that something more is happening or could come to pass. While gossip can be par for the course in office environments, circulating false rumours, making jokes at another’s expense or practical ‘jokes’ can be indicative of abusive behaviour and cause serious harm to the individual’s self-esteem and mental health.

2. Isolation

An individual being ostracized from the group is a common form of bullying. A colleague who is excluded from group activities, such as team lunches or after-work socials may be a victim of bullying. The victim often feels targeted, alone and ignored; cliques appear easily in work environments and bullies may use them to turn on an individual.

3. Unfair Criticism

It is not uncommon for bullying to impact on work, with the harasser sometimes being overly harsh and unfair in their professional criticism. Individuals in positions of power deliberately sabotaging others’ work performance and giving them an unfair workload are all forms of bullying. If a normally efficient, hardworking employee starts to slack or appears to be under an unusual amount of pressure it is worth looking into the situation and determining the cause.

4. Changes in Behaviour

Subtle changes in behaviour can be an indicator that a staff member is being targeted. Look out for changes in mood, for example individuals may become quiet, withdrawn and distracted. Their mental health may also take a hit with some suffering from anxiety or depression as a result of a hostile working environment.

5. Absenteeism

Bullying increases absenteeism, just like childhood bullying often makes the victim try to stay off school sick. Look out for employees taking more days off sick than is usual and be mindful of health complaints – headaches and stomach ailments can be signs of stress. An employee with a track record of good attendance suddenly taking a lot of time off sick is something you should look into further.

6. Withholding Information

Bullies are manipulative and as such use a variety of methods to attack their target. Specific to the workplace, bullies may withhold the information a co-worker needs to do their job. If a usually good worker begins to slack you may wish to question why. If the bully is in a position pf power they may also withhold things such as holiday, preventing staff members from taking leave when they wish without a valid reason.

7. Hints

Victims of bullying or harassment are often unlikely to state that they are receiving the treatment they are. However, without specifically referring to ‘bullying’ or ‘harassment’ they may mention issues that are taking place in the workplace, such as ‘drama’. Try to pick up on these subtle cues and investigate the issues raised. The individual clearly trusts you enough to mention the issues they are facing so take it seriously and try to deal with the situation sensitively.

Being bullied can be traumatising and may lead employees to become depressed, stressed, anxious and reluctant to come into work. It is also important to remember that should the bullying turn into harassment then the perpetrator is breaking the law. Harassment of any form is illegal and could lead to serious repercussions. Try to nip instances of bullying in the bud – make sure any victims of bullying feel supported and reassured that the case is being taken seriously.