Dealing with the Office Bully

 In Practice Management

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law firm office bullying

You work in an office where there is a ‘tyrant’. They are not the boss as such, but they have often been in post for some time and have some informal authority. This is not gained by rank or experience but by intimidation. They tend to get their own way and tend to show two faces – a reasonable [and somewhat twisted version of the truth] to their bosses and a much more unpleasant bullying tone to their peers and subordinates.

Often the bullying will be subtle so that in its isolation it seems innocuous and only when several incidents are pieced together does it reveal a true picture. Is this a familiar scenario?

Such people can often present a real challenge to management , as staff will be nervous about raising issues about a fellow peer.

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So how can you identify and manage such people?

There are a number of things you can do:

  • You can focus on the statistics. Maintain and monitor staff turnover and be clear you understand fully why staff have left and whether the pattern emerging is unusual.
  • Hold full and confidential exit interviews and create a culture where exiting staff members can be confident that they can be open and candid about issues.
  • Take every opportunity you can to reinforce the message that you are aiming for an open, supportive and positive culture.
  • Make sure that you have relevant policies in place e.g. anti bullying, harassment, equal opportunities, grievance, and that these are well published to staff. Ensure that you have a mechanism for staff to raise their concerns in confidence and informally if they wish
  • Where evidence appears that indicates that you have such a problem ensure that you act quickly, decisively and straightforwardly to deal with the issue. Don’t avoid or delay action simply because someone fails to make a complaint. A tribunal claim or absence for stress can be far more difficult, not to mention costly, if you fail to act.

Take action

In many organisations issues are allowed to fester and this can significantly impact upon staff morale and hence productivity. That is not to say that managers should shoot from the hip – issues should be dealt with from the perspective of evidence and objectivity. Nevertheless, not acting where there is a clear issue with a member of staff that has emerged will mean that staff will no longer have any confidence that management can in fact manage and will vote with their feet.


  • Make sure that you establish facts and conduct all meetings in accordance with your policies and procedures.
  • Be prepared to offer support and counselling for both the Bully and the person(s) who has been subject to the bullying and provide training where this is required.
  • Wherever possible ensure that appropriate supervision is in place.
  • Don’t be afraid to take tough action where this is required e.g. warnings and ultimately dismissal if this is the right outcome albeit that this may take longer and seem more difficult.

In the long term the cost of doing nothing can be dramatic and have serious consequences for the employer. Having found your Bully don’t ignore them!

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