Bullying at work: 3 hypothetical situations in detail

A misplaced joke, a negative statement, withholding information… bullying takes on many forms. Bullying ruins the working atmosphere and the mental well-being of the affected employees. Ellen Waldack, prevention advisor for psychosocial well-being, is presented with three common situations. The conclusion: “Preventing and handling bullying is everyone’s job.”

1. “Bullying is a subjective experience”

“The Law on Psychosocial Risks at Work defines bullying very broadly, which in reality makes it difficult to clearly define bullying behaviour. After all, all behaviour can be seen as bullying, depending on how the person concerned experiences it.

We therefore distinguish between intentional and non-intentional behaviour: was bullying an end in itself? Or was it a consequence of an action, such as a misplaced joke or a negative evaluation? A prevention advisor for psychosocial well-being will not judge this, but will at least acknowledge the feeling of bullying.

In case of a one-off behaviour, action, or words, there can be no question of bullying. Bullying always involves several instances that accumulate over time directed against the same person. If the non-constructive behaviour is mutual, we are more likely to speak of a conflict.”

2. “Bullying is inevitable”

“That’s false. I may be too optimistic, but I believe that if everyone takes responsibility, bullying can be prevented. As an employer, you have an important role to play in this. Clear agreements on the values and standards within the organisation help in this respect. Employees need to know what behaviour is expected of them and what cannot be tolerated. What is crucial here is that everyone – including the manager – acts in accordance with these rules and that employers ensure that they comply with them correctly.

The employment regulations are an ideal instrument for informing employees about their well-being and psychosocial risks. What is the procedure to follow in case of mental discomfort? Is there a confidential advisor present? And which External Occupational Health Services can employees turn to? Communicate the contact details clearly because employees often don’t know where to go.

But above all, a good anti-bullying policy is about having the right people in the right place. Not all managers have the necessary competencies to rectify the situation if things go wrong. Ignoring the problem doesn’t solve anything; it just escalates it. Therefore, invest in the necessary training ondiscussion techniques and conflict management.”

3. “Talking helps”

“It’s a cliché, but talking really does help. We recommend that employees who feel bullied should, if possible, first engage in a conversation with the other person involved. Of course, this is not an easy task and strongly depends on the situation: the personality of the person involved, the existence of a hierarchical relationship, the presence or absence of an open discussion culture within the organisation, etc. You can train employees to give constructive feedback.

Talking doesn’t help or is it too difficult? We then advise the employee to contact a manager. They can mediate or contact HR, a confidential advisor, or the psychosocial aspects prevention advisor for help. The employee can also contact these bodies directly.

The same applies to employees who notice that a colleague is being bullied. They can call the person concerned to account about their behaviour or report this up the line. In other words, everyone can and must do their part.”

A bully-free organisation: a matter for everyone

Preventing and tackling bullying at work requires the employer and employees to accept their responsibilities.


At the organisational level:
- Work on a good prevention policy.
- Create an open discussion culture.
- Work with the procedures and listen to the advice of the prevention advisor.


At the managerial level:
Pay attention to people management.
Learn how to deal with difficult situations and conflicts in the right way.


At the employee level:
- Communicate and give constructive feedback.
- Set a good example: do not be a bully.