There are lots of different definitions.
Bullying is often thought of as aggressive behaviour, with a bully (the perpetrator) shouting and yelling at people, being antagonistic and rude. It can, however, involve more subtle insidious behaviours, with the bully constantly jibing away at a person - perhaps giving them constant but unwarranted criticism, undermining them in front of others, (or in private) and sometimes even trojan-horsing their digs in ‘jest’.
Other forms of bullying can include taking away responsibilities from someone, and perhaps belittling them by replacing a more responsible task with a more trivial one. Other bullying behaviour might include ignoring someone, or excluding them from activities, or perhaps overloading them with work, often with unrealistic deadlines.
In simple terms, if someone feels that they are being singled out for unfair treatment by a manager or a colleague, they are probably being bullied. It's as simple as that, although sometimes a person may not know they are being bullied, but will be the victim of derogatory comments or jokes behind their back.
In some cases, people are bullied because a manager or colleague wants them out, or there can be issues around gender, race, or sexuality which, while discriminatory, can and still do occur. Often it's simply a personality clash between people, with one person exerting their power over another.
It is worth noting that bullying is prevalent in almost all industry sectors, not just ones which might be thought of as hot-headed or temperamental working environments, for example, trading floors, or kitchens; it also happens in sectors where people have been professionally trained in personal relationships and caring, as with social work and healthcare.
However, it isn't always the strong picking on the weak. A bully could feel threatened by someone else's greater strengths or abilities and begin to bully that person to try and control or intimidate them and inhibit their success.
Irrespective of the reasons, however, if someone is bullying another person, it’s wrong.
If you feel you are being singled out or bullied, you shouldn't have to put up with it. The following steps should help whatever your situation. Remember, the worst thing is to do nothing and hope it goes away.
Don't suffer in silence, be sure to tell a friend or work colleague about it. Since most bullying is not out in the open, sharing your situation with someone you trust is a very positive first step to take, especially as it may well be that you are not the first person to have suffered at this person's hands. Depending on your workplace and the situation, you could also talk to your manager (assuming they themselves are not the cause; if they are, then speak to that person's manager instead.) Consult your organisation’s policies and follow the procedure for who to inform, where to take a disclosure and what records of evidence you may need.
Being the victim of bullying doesn't just make your work life a misery, it can also affect your overall physical and mental health, as well as wellbeing. Symptoms can include stress, headaches, anxiety, raised blood pressure, sleeplessness, loss of confidence, tearfulness, nausea, ulcers, rashes, irritable bowel syndrome, and other illnesses besides, as well as suicidal thoughts. If you feel that your health is being affected, be sure to visit your doctor.
Realise that if you are being criticised unfairly or personal remarks are being made that undermine you, then this may not really be about you, as just the result of the bully's own weaknesses, fears, biases and flaws. In some cases, it may be that the bully has always behaved in this way - and they feel their behaviour is either acceptable or justified. Whatever the reasons may be, bullying is not acceptable. If you can, try keep calm and positive about the situation, and you will be best able to not only help yourself, but others who might one day be in the same situation as you, because of the same person.
Make notes every time an incident occurs. Send yourself an email or write it down in a diary so that you have a concurrent record. If you need to take action, having notes taken at the time will prove very useful and harder to dispute, and you will expend less energy and worry trying to remember all the details of events that might prove to be important when considered as part of a pattern of behaviour over a period of time.
Confronting a bully takes courage. If you feel comfortable doing so and have taken time to evaluate what it is, speaking up might be the right step for you. Choosing the right time for you to do it is important, having the right dialogue in place to question their motives, the ‘whys’ and ‘please don’ts’ means you are forearmed. You may also feel more comfortable having a third-party present as support. Similarly, if you don’t feel comfortable with the confrontation then that is understandable and respectable to decline the situation.
If you find that informal steps have not solved the problem, then you may need to take it further and use your employer's grievance procedure to make a formal complaint. It’s important to follow the right procedure both for best practice and to comply with employment regulations. You won’t be expected to know every detail of employment law and, your HR department or manager should advise you of the necessary steps. Always ensure you go to any meeting about your complaint with a colleague accompanying you.
Further help and support:
Bullying,co.uk - part of the Family Lives website, and with a whole section on workplace bullying
Gov UK - information and resources relating to workplace bullying and harassment
Citizens Information (Ireland) - comprehensive information on public services and entitlements of citizens in Ireland.