Bullying including shouting, shoving, intimidation and threatening behaviour has been witnessed or suffered by almost six in 10 people at work, a survey claims.

In a survey of 2,000 workers, 37% said they had been bullied while another 21% said they had seen bullying being inflicted on a workmate.

Tight deadlines, personality clashes and office politics often caused tensions to run high but just 48% of workers said they did anything about the bullying, according to the survey commissioned by employment law specialists Slater and Gordon.

In fact, 10% feared they would lose their job if they complained, while 23% did not think it was their responsibility to say anything. In addition, 33% of workers said they felt too awkward to speak out about the bullying while 26% said it as part of the culture of where they worked.

Seeing workmates sworn at was witnessed by 52% of those questioned while 25.3% said they had seen a colleague being deliberately humiliated by a bully. Matters had become so bad that 5% said they had seen physical violence break out between workmates.

The bullying was disguised as ‘workplace banter’ in 56% of cases while 68% said the behaviour was ‘subtle’, such as leaving a colleague out of work drinks, lunches and meetings, according to the survey.

Bullying had also reduced 21% of workers to tears, the survey found.

Slater and Gordon employment lawyer Claire Dawson said the majority of bullying comes in the form of verbal abuse or intimidation.

She said: “This is often dismissed as ‘banter’ between colleagues but the workplace shouldn’t be a place where people are insulted. The idea that people can be subjected to physical violence while at work is quite alarming. This can have a devastating impact on the person who is being bullied and can result in depression and anxiety.

“Our research shows that most people who witness bullying prefer to do nothing about it. They are concerned for their own positions and aren’t willing to put their necks on the line, especially when they don’t know how an employer will respond to the issue.”

She suggested that anyone who is being victimised should confront the bully, either directly or through or a manager, to let them know that what they are doing is unacceptable.

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “Office bullies must be banished from the workplace. The stress and anxiety felt by victims can make them physically ill, lose all self-confidence and mean that they dread coming into work. No-one should be put in this position.

“Employers who fail to tackle bullying will pay a price too. Staff who are bullied are more likely to take more time off because of the stress caused by their harassment and will be less productive at work.

“Every organisation needs to have an anti-bullying policy, and every manager should ensure that there is zero-tolerance of bullying either by line managers or workmates. This research shows why people should join a union to ensure they are treated fairly at work.”

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