Bullying bosses | Spotting the problem and potential strategies

Written on 24 August 2023

Bullying in the workplace can be a pervasive issue that affects the mental health and productivity of employees, as well as the overall culture of the organisation. While most organisations have policies in place to prevent and address workplace bullying, it can be especially challenging when the perpetrator is a manager.

According to CIPD, 40% of those who have been bullied or harassed in the workplace say their manager was responsible. What’s more, a survey of 2,100 UK employees conducted by Visier found that 43% of workers have left a job at some point in their career due to their manager, and that 53% of those considering leaving their jobs were looking to change roles because of their manager.

'People leave managers, not companies'

Managers who bully their team members can create a toxic work environment that can lead to high turnover rates, low morale and decreased productivity. Bullying can further result in employees resigning and claiming constructive unfair dismissal or, where bullying relates to a protected characteristic, discrimination and harassment claims.

Victims of bullying may be reluctant to speak up, particularly if the perpetrator is a line manager, or senior member of staff, or is friendly with a line manager who may be unwilling, or feel unable, to challenge their behaviour or pursue a complaint made against them.

As an employer, it is important to ask why and how company culture or practices may be contributing to this problem and, importantly, what can be done to improve the position.

Do you need support?

Speak to us for an honest, no obligation chat on:

0345 226 8393    Lines are open 9am – 5pm

How can employers identify potential bullying behaviour?

There are many tools at our disposal that can help identify possible bullying conduct. For example:

  • Promoting the use of grievance procedures, highlighting anti-bullying policies and providing training on how you want employees and managers to conduct themselves in the workplace.
  • Anonymous employee engagement surveys. These help reduce the fear of repercussions as employees cannot be individually identified by their responses/comments on the survey. The downside is that they may highlight that there is a potential bullying issue but given they are anonymous, larger organisations may struggle to identify the team within which the problem exists.
  • Anonymous complaints boxes. These are similar to the engagement surveys, but employees can use them to raise issues at any time they wish, rather than waiting for the business to approach them.
  • Exit interviews. Employees can be more open and willing to raise issues when they are leaving employment as there is less risk of repercussions. However, consider who holds the exit interviews – if it is their line manager they are unlikely to raise the issue of bullying if their line manager is the perpetrator, or is perceived as having condoned it. In this instance, look to have a member of the HR team or another manager from a different department hold the meeting.
  • Data, in particular data around staff retention and/or staff absences. This data likely already exists but is it analysed? When comparing attendance and retention rates between teams, if any standout as having particularly high rates consider exploring the possible reasons.

If one or more of the identifiers above suggest there is a problem within a team or with a specific individual, consider how best to investigate the full details, including identifying the alleged perpetrator, if not known. 

This can be done by sharing some headline feedback from anonymous surveys and encouraging employees to utilise company policies to bring any concerns to management attention – specifically noting that, should they have concerns with management, they should address this with an alternative manager, senior leader or the HR team so that the issue can be investigated and dealt with). 

If the team in question is known, consider more targeted investigation meetings and training.

How can employers encourage employees to report bullying?

There are several ways to encourage employees to report instances of bullying. Firstly, developing a clear reporting procedure with alternative points of contact can be helpful. Secondly, it is important to consistently take a firm stance against unacceptable behaviours and follow through on the promises made in your policy. Thirdly, addressing favouritism and protecting employees from retaliation for raising concerns are crucial steps to ensure a safe work environment.

While you might fear an influx of bullying reports, employers shouldn’t be afraid to identify and highlight these issues. Doing so will give the organisation the opportunity to address the situation rather than face a loss of confidence in management, absenteeism, low team morale, poor productivity, poor employee retention or potentially irreparable damage to your reputation.

Given that recruitment and retention is a challenge for many workplaces in the current climate, there are great benefits to be had, not least financially, in addressing bullying concerns and creating a more positive and respectful working environment.

What can be done to address bullying by managers in the workplace?

Once you have investigated concerns or the reasons behind key indicators, it is necessary to consider what can be done to resolve the issues.

When deciding on appropriate action for instances of bullying, there are several factors that need to be considered.

Depending upon the seriousness and individual facts and circumstances, bullying can potentially amount to a gross misconduct offence, where disciplinary action may be appropriate. However, not all incidents may warrant such action as there could be mitigating factors or misunderstandings that need to be addressed. For instance, sometimes what an employee perceives as bullying could be a manager addressing genuine performance concerns but in an unsuitable way due to a lack of training. 

Management training is often overlooked but can be vital in helping get the most out of managers and to equip them with the tools and skills to perform their role to the best of their abilities and in a manner consistent with the organisation’s ethos. There is no one solution that fits all circumstances, and a case-by-case approach is necessary to determine the appropriate action.

If the outcome does not involve the dismissal of the manager concerned, it may be possible to assign the employee an alternative manager. However, this is often not practical and may not actually resolve the underlying issue.

While mediation can be a valuable tool, we often see organisations jump straight to offering mediation to both parties as a solution without giving it sufficient thought and this may not always be the most suitable solution.

The role of facilitated meetings as an alternative to mediation

Facilitated meetings are a useful alternative to mediation and can be incredibly helpful in situations involving bullying. These meetings involve a trained facilitator who supports the meeting chair and ensures that the discussion remains positive and constructive, with a focus on achieving the desired outcome. 

Facilitated meetings can help to re-establish professional boundaries, confirm the manager’s authority, and clarify to both parties that management of the employee is necessary, but it should be done in an appropriate and agreed-upon manner to prevent future issues and improve working relationships. Overall, facilitated meetings can be an effective way to resolve workplace conflicts and promote a positive work environment.

The primary objective of facilitated meetings is to reach an agreement on ways to improve working together, including changing behaviours where necessary, and to document the agreed-upon actions to support this aim. These meetings are not an opportunity for parties to bring up any outstanding grievances they may have. Instead, the focus is on moving forward and finding improved ways to work together.

Facilitated meetings differ from mediation in that they are not off the record, and attendance can be required by either the employee or the manager as a reasonable management request. If either party fails to adhere to the agreed-upon actions following the meeting, the organisation may take disciplinary action as a result. In summary, facilitated meetings provide a structured and proactive approach to resolving workplace conflicts and improving working relationships.

Key takeaways for addressing bullying in the workplace


Ignoring suspicions or indicators of bullying will likely exacerbate the issues rather than resolve them.


Bullying can be resolved and it does not always have to result in a dismissal.


Bullying from managers can often be linked to a lack of adequate management training. Providing appropriate training on how to successfully and appropriately manage employees is a good preventative measure.


Resolutions can help both parties move forward and avoid potential bullying claims.

Related Content

Resolve issues and reduce bullying-related risks

Instances of bullying, harassment and discrimination in the workplace can be incredibly difficult to deal with. As well the daunting task of confronting the problem, employers must be mindful of employment legislation when handling these issues to avoid costly missteps.

At WorkNest, our team of Employment Law and HR experts is here to provide professional support. As part of our fixed-fee service, we can help you identify the best course of action, offer practical advice tailored to your specific circumstances and desired outcomes, and guide you through the process, ensuring you steer clear of legal pitfalls.

Plus, if your organisation lacks effective policies to handle these issues, our team can create them for you at no extra cost. That way, your workplace is properly equipped to address these challenges should they arise.

And if a lack of manager training is a roadblock to taking action, we offer an array of HR and Line Management training designed to improve people leaders’ skills and confidence and empower them to manage employee relations issues more effectively.

To discuss your specific needs and see how we can help, call us on 0345 226 8393 or request your free consultation using the button below.

Find what you were looking for?

Our FREE resources library contains over 200 searchable blogs, guides and templates focused around Employment Law and Health & Safety issues that employers face on a day-to-day basis.

Get your FREE download

We combine the service quality of a law firm with the certainty of fixed-fee services to provide expert, solutions-focused Employment LawHR and Health & Safety support tailored to employers.

Call us on 0345 226 8393.

Get your FREE download

We combine the service quality of a law firm with the certainty of fixed-fee services to provide expert, solutions-focused Employment LawHR and Health & Safety support tailored to employers.

Call us on 0345 226 8393.

Get your FREE consultation

Submit your details and one of our team will be in touch.


Get your FREE consultation

Submit your details and one of our team will be in touch.

Get your FREE consultation

Submit your details and one of our team will be in touch.

Before you go…

We can help with that HR problem or health and safety query. If you’re an employer, leave your details below and our team will call you back.

Register your interest

Submit your details and one of our team will be in touch.

Get your FREE consultation

Submit your details and one of our team will be in touch.

Download your FREE guide

Submit your details below.

Request a callback

Submit your details and one of our team will be in touch.

Need some help?

Call our team now on:

0345 226 8393

Request a Callback

Submit your details and one of our team will be in touch.

Request a Callback
Hi, how can we help?
Click the button below to chat to an expert.

Get your FREE consultation

Submit your details and one of our team will be in touch.