Dealing with the aftermath of bullying at work

May 31, 2021 | Disputes

If you’ve had a bullying incident in your team, it’s important to take it seriously, and deal with it quickly and effectively, which may often involve disciplinary action.

But unless you manage the aftermath carefully, there may either be a recurrence or wider consequences, which will continue to impact your business. So how do you do that?

The victim

Victims of bullying may have been off sick, or are likely to have been suffering with stress to a degree even if they’ve not had sickness absence. Other health consequences such as depression and anxiety may also be a factor. Sometimes, with very serious bullying, they can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You may want to involve Occupational Health to assist you in identifying the best support you can offer to overcome these effects, or may want to look at giving them access to a counselling service.

They may have lost trust in the organisation if they feel it was not addressed soon enough, effectively enough, or if it was a management figure who was bullying them. Acting swiftly to ensure there is no recurrence and to help minimise the impacts at work may go some way towards addressing this.

The bully

Whether the bully has been disciplined or not, the most important thing you need to do here is make sure they understand what they have done and don’t bully again. They may genuinely think they have not done anything wrong and this needs resolving. That might involve training or coaching of some kind.

If the bullying took place in the context of line management, training in appropriate management skills is likely to be necessary. Their interactions with the victim may have been felt perhaps to a lesser extent by their wider team so it’s essential to sort this out to avoid further complaints.

There is of course a possibility that personal issues were at the root of the behaviour, and assistance with resolving these might be useful, including perhaps external support or counselling.

Working together?

Where the victim and bully will be continuing to work together, there will need to be effective management of the situation. The victim may well have been off sick, and may feel very intimidated at the prospect of returning to the work environment at all, but especially where they will need to work with the bully again. They may fear repercussions.

Some kind of mediation or at least a supervised meeting is likely to make a difference, where the ice can be broken, perhaps an apology offered and an opportunity given for the victim to explain how the behaviour made them feel.

Once some kind of reconciliation has happened, it will still not be a case of ‘back to normal’. You will need to monitor the situation carefully to ensure that any training or guidance the bully has had is being put into practice, and to keep an eye out for patterns of absence or behaviour that may indicate a recurring or wider problem.

Sometimes working together again may just not be possible, and other options may need to be looked at. This might include moving one or other of the people involved to a different roles or department, if this is possible. In more extreme circumstances one of them may need to leave the organisation, either because they resign themselves or because a managed exit is the only way forward. If this is the case, ensure you take good advice before acting, in order to minimise your legal liability.


If you think you have a problem with workplace bullying and would like some advice, get in touch.