Bullies use a wide range of subtle tactics and behaviour to intimidate colleagues at work, but victims' torment is being made worse by endless rounds of organisational change as well as ineffective action by employers.
New research by the UK-based Chartered Management Institute (CMI) released in the run up to national 'Ban Bullying at Work Day' on November 7 reveals that workplace harassment is often social in nature.
In all, the CMI identified eleven types of intimidation based on responses to their survey from more than 500 Britons.
The most common type of bullying involved the misuse of power, something that seven out of 10 said they had seen or experienced at work.
Almost as common are other power-plays, including overbearing supervision (cited by 63 per cent) and being undermining by overloading and criticism (68 per cent)
Almost half of those questioned (47 per cent) said they knew of career closure incidents such as individuals being denied opportunities for promotion or training. A similar proportion (43 per cent) suggested they had seen threats made about job security
Seven out of 10 said that they had heard verbal insults aimed at specific individuals and just over half (53 per cent) identified the spreading of malicious rumours as another key tactic used by bullies.
Worryingly, the research also suggests that the problem is growing, with six out 10 respondents saying they feel that bullying is increasingly common across the UK. One-third, meanwhile, believe the situation is made worse because their organisation is ineffective at deterring bullying behaviour.
Employer inaction emerges as a real problem, with one in five organisations admitting they have no plans to develop anti-bullying policies.
A reluctance on the part of managers to deal with incidents of bullying is another factor – and little wonder, since six out of 10 of those surveyed said their employer has not trained them to deal with it.
Although only one per cent of managers said they would turn a blind eye to incidents, only four out of 10 would confront somebody behaving unacceptably and a mere one in 10 would escalate the problem to a senior managers.
What's more, just five per cent seek said they would seek help from their HR teams – a statistic that cannot but reflect badly on HR's performance.
Other research published by the Chartered Management Institute suggests that the extent of organisational change is another factor in the rising incidence of bullying behaviour.
The 'Quality of Working Life' report (March 2006) revealed that nine out of 10 managers had gone through some form of workplace change in the past twelve months, a process that encouraged workplace bullies.
The research found that half people became angry with colleagues, almost a third grew irritable and intolerant and a quarter said that others avoided contact with them.
"There is a major gap between what managers say they do to deal with bullying and the experiences of those who have been bullied at work," said the Chartered Management Institute's Jo Causon.
"No single off-the-shelf policy will suit every organisation, but the organisational culture and management style should make it clear that bullying is unacceptable.
"Shying away from the issue is no excuse and involving senior staff and other departments is essential to protect staff, performance levels and productivity," she added.
Underlining the importance of anti-bullying policies, the Institute's has found that where organisations have a formal policy, seven out of 10 managers believe they are effective at deterring bullying.
Where all staff are trained about acceptable levels of behaviour and who to turn to if they feel bullied, more than eight out of 10 say that bullying gets dealt with.
But as a study published last week found, such policies are often absent or ineffective. One fifth of all employees in the UK claim to have experienced some form of bullying or harassment over the last two years, according to the survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.