Senior managers most bullied at work

Sep 14 2005 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Bullying is rife across British businesses, with senior managers often the ones most affected, according to new research.

The survey of 512 executives by the Chartered Management Institute has found many senior managers are victims of bullying, with psychological intimidation one of the biggest problems.

The research also shows an alarming lack of awareness about dealing with workplace bullies.

The study, which has been published in association with the trade union Unison and Acas, has found that 39 per cent of all managers have been bullied in the past three years.

Middle managers were the most bullied among the UK management population, with half of them having suffered

Middle managers were the most bullied among the UK management population, with half of them (49 per cent) having suffered.

This, said the institute, suggested that "management squeeze" was a serious issue – with pressures from above and below the reporting line creating problems for those in between.

But victims appeared at all levels of the organisation. Almost a third (29 per cent) of directors and two fifths (42 per cent) of junior managers reported incidences of being bullied.

Managers were observing incidents of bullying between peers, by external customers or clients and a quarter have reported bullying of managers by junior staff, dispelling the myth that it only occurs in formal hierarchical relationships.

Women appeared to be more frequent victims of bullying than men with more than half (54 per cent compared to 35 per cent) having suffered from bullying in the past three years.

Levels of bullying appeared to be higher in public sector organisations than in any areas of the private sector, according to the survey.

On a five point scale (with five meaning a high level of bullying prevalent) individuals working in the public sector gave their organisations an average score of 2.55, while those working for public limited companies gave an average score of 2.31.

Private companies had the lowest levels of bullying with a rating of just 1.98.

The research also found that the most common forms of bullying were misuse of power or position (70 per cent), verbal insults (69 per cent) and undermining by overloading or criticism (68 per cent).

Physical intimidation or violence were the least common forms, with less than one fifth (17 per cent) having been bullied in this way.

A lack of management skills was cited as the top reason (66 per cent) for bullying in the workplace.

Other factors included personality of colleagues/managers (57 per cent) and authoritarian management style (55 per cent).

Mary Chapman, CMI chief executive, said: "This suggests that poor management is at the root of the problem since senior staff lack the skills to prevent incidents of bullying from occurring.

"Organisations must create an open, empowering culture and develop the skills of those who enter management positions to ensure that the potential for bullying is minimised and that a positive, productive working environment develops."

The majority (75 per cent) of respondents, when asked about their initial reactions to a colleague in a bullying relationship, said they would talk to one of the parties involved.

Others (11 per cent) would raise the issue with a senior manager while some individuals (5 per cent) would inform the HR team.

Despite this, almost half (48 per cent) of those who had been bullied reported that no action was taken by their employers.

This suggested that the good intentions of managers were not reflected in practice – 71 per cent have spent one day or less dealing with bullying in the past year, said the CMI.

Acas chief executive John Taylor added: "It is essential that employees are able to report inappropriate behaviour and be confident that the issue will be dealt with in a professional manner. Managers need to realise the impact bullying has on employees – both the victims and observers – and prioritise workforce welfare."

For those with policies, training was particularly effective with most (83 per cent) of those managers whose policies include training rating their organisations as quite or very effective at deterring bullying.

Other effective but uncommon policies included a contact point for advice (82 per cent), internal confidential counselling (82 per cent) and external mediation (81 per cent).

The involvement of line management was seen as very important by the majority (90 per cent) while 79 per cent felt that employee involvement was also essential.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: "Public sector managers are under increasing pressure to implement a constant raft of government reforms and at the same time deal with recruitment and retention difficulties. I believe this conflict is reflected in the higher level of bullying in the public sector."


Older Comments

I have two male colleagues (1 in my department, 1 not), both undermining me since I was promoted to department leader and refusing to acknowledge my role. On the otherhand I have two inexperienced managers who don't always work together giving out orders to all of us and doing nothing about our complaints. To be fair they are doing their best to get us working together by repeatedly reminding all of us of our job roles, which we know and I cannot complete mine without co-operation from the two trying to undermine me. I am the woman between 4 men just trying to do a job. This is a situation going on for 6 month so far. All that time has been wasted just because two cannot stand a woman boss and the other two want me to deal with it even though the first two refuse to acknowledge my job role. I would have sacked them but everyone here is scared of tribunals. Don't you just love fairness and understanding!

Lynda London

I am a senior manager in this position (of being bullied by some of my staff) and the Chief Executive has supported a staff member who complained about me without attempting to present me with specifics of the complaint, consequently not giving me a chance to answer. He has announced that he is dismissing me unless I agree to a massive pay cut and a change in my contract. The Union say I have almost no chance of getting my job back, even if I win a Tribunal and I say that I am the one being bullied here, the allegations against me are false and no-one is listening. The CEO has a good chance of landing in court because I will not take this - I demand justice. With employment law as it is in the UK though, what chance have I got? Would I be better suing for libel?


I was promoted several years ago and I now manage one of the original applicants for my position. From day one she has managed to intimidate and undermine my role as her manager and although I have tried to carry out my role in an effective and understanding way, I have now come to the conclusion that she will only be happy once I have left this role. I am naturally lacking in confidence and although I believe I am a good colleague and get on with all the other staff, many in more senior roles to mine, my self esteem when dealing with this individual dwindles each day. I would hate to give up my job and would not give her the self satisfaction, but it really is now impacting on my health and I dread coming into work some days. I just wish I could tell her to shut up and get a life, although that is hardly good managerial speak is it? At least I know it isn't just me. We have had 2 temps working with us in the past 2 years and both of them also had problems with her, and one was even reduced to tears (and she was someone I would call extovert and self assured). Everyone thinks it is the less senior grades which have to cope with bullying, but in some ways, I think it is harder for managers to admit this goes on for fear of being accused of being unable to manage staff properly.

Nick London