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Acas study reveals that workplace bullying is on the rise with many people too afraid to talk about it

Monday 16 November 2015

A new Acas study published today reveals that workplace bullying is growing in Britain and many people are too afraid to speak up about it.

The Acas paper pdf icon Seeking better solutions: tackling bullying and ill-treatment in Britain's workplaces [429kb] looked at the latest research on workplace bullying as well as calls to the Acas helpline from employers and employees.

Bullying and harassment is any unwanted behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended. The Acas helpline has received around 20,000 calls related to bullying and harassment over the past year with some callers reporting that workplace bullying caused them to self-harm or consider suicide.

Acas Chair, Sir Brendan Barber, said:

"Our analysis reveals that bullying is on the rise in Britain and it is more likely to be found in organisations that have poor workplace climates where this type of behaviour can become institutionalised.

"Callers to our helpline have experienced some horrific incidents around bullying that have included humiliation, ostracism, verbal and physical abuse. But managers sometimes dismiss accusations around bullying as simply personality or management style clashes whilst others may recognise the problem but lack the confidence or skills to deal with it.

"Businesses should be taking workplace bullying very seriously as the annual economic impact of bullying-related absences, staff turnover and lost productivity is estimated to be almost £18 billion."

Acas' analysis showed that:

  • representative surveys of workplaces, health and safety representatives and employees all show that workplace bullying and ill-treatment is growing in Britain
  • there are more incidences of bullying within certain groups such as public sector minority ethnic workers; women in traditionally male-dominated occupations; workers with disabilities or long-term health problems; lesbian, gay and bisexual and transgender people; and workers in health care.

Calls to the Acas helpline around bullying revealed.

  • Barriers to people making complaints such as the fear that trying to do something about unwanted behaviour might make the situation worse.
  • Ill-treatment from other staff often built up to the point where people dreaded going to work, their family and home life had been affected and many took leave to escape the workplace.
  • Inexperienced employers can feel they lack the skills to go through complex grievance and disciplinary procedures that bullying allegations may involve.
  • Managers alerted to bullying allegations can favour simply moving staff around rather than investigating and dealing with underlying behaviours.

Brendan Barber added:

"Anti-bullying workplace policies and managers with good people management skills are essential to deal with the growing problem of bullying.

"Our study shows that encouraging a positive workplace climate is just as important as it allows people to have the confidence to report bullying when it occurs.

"This paper shines a light on workplace bullying with recommendations around how it can be tackled more effectively in the workplace."

The study recommends that workplaces agree standards of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours and senior leaders act as role models for these standards.

To see the full research report and Acas' guides for employers and employees on how to deal with bullying, please see Bullying and harassment.

Notes to editors

  1. The Acas Discussion Paper pdf icon Seeking better solutions: tackling bullying and ill-treatment in Britain's workplaces [429kb] is available to download.
  2. The Acas helpline receives around 20,000 calls related to bullying and harassment every year - in extreme cases, some callers told Acas that workplace bullying led them to self-harm or consider suicide.
  3. Research by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform estimated the economy-wide aggregate costs of bullying-related absenteeism, turnover and lost productivity in 2007 as £13.75billion and a 1.5 per cent reduction in overall UK productivity - equating to a financial impact on GDP of approximately £17.65billion (Giga et al (2008) The Costs of Workplace Bullying, Unite/Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, London).
  4. In 1998, managers in 7% of workplaces reported grievances raised concerning bullying or harassment issues - this rose to 8% in 2004 and to 11% in 2011 (the Workplace Employment Relations Study series).
  5. Acas stands for Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. Acas provides free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law. We support good relationships between employers and employees which underpin business success. We also provide good value, high quality training and tailored advice to employers. Our expertise is based on millions of contacts with employers and employees each year.  Acas is an independent and impartial statutory body governed by a Council made up of members from business, trade unions, academia and the law.
  6. For media enquiries or to receive an embargoed copy of Seeking better solutions: tackling bullying and ill-treatment in Britain's workplaces contact Shumon Ali-Rahman on 0207 210 3688 or For out of hours media enquiries please call the out of hours duty press officer on 020 7210 3600.