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Calling time on bullying

Careers clinic

My boss is a stubborn and difficult person, who expects a great deal from his subordinates - not least their attendance at regular 'drinking sessions' outside work hours. I can just about put up with his workplace bullying, although I do find it extremely stressful, but don't see why I should be expected to spend my free time fraternising with a group of people who I spend almost all my working day with.

For one thing, I don't drink alcohol, and find spending the entire evening in a pub pretty unpleasant.

However, my reluctance to 'join in' is starting to attract derisory comments from colleagues and I'm worried that it could affect my future with this company.

Name and address withheld

Our experts advise

Under no circumstances should employees have to put up with being bullied at work. Any type of bullying should be taken seriously and involve a third party who can try to diffuse the situation by discussing the matter with the bully. If the informal approach doesn't work, then disciplinary action in line with company policy should be taken.

Employers have a duty to give employees support against such persecution and to provide a safe workplace. Persistent harassment in the workplace is now a criminal offence. It's also worth noting that a recent House of Lords case made it clear that employers will be held responsible if they fail to protect their employees from bullying.

If things aren't that bad, then it might be that you simply need to be more assertive. This means being brief and to the point and using language such as 'in my experience' calmly explaining why your views are valid. If you use this approach the angry person is much more likely to respond in a more adult mannerso it is worth thinking about what you want to say. It takes practice to use this kind of behaviour in the face of aggression, but there are lots of training courses available on this theme.

As for the socialising with colleagues, we can't choose our workmates and often we work with people whose interests we do not share, and in some cases we don't particularly like.

But part of working in a team means making the effort to get on with people and sometimes socialising after work. It sounds like your organisation is one where this kind of after work drinking is seen as the norm - and that it is unlikely to change.

So you do need to make the effort occasionally - but do not feel under pressure to join all the time. The next time you hear a nasty comment, remember to be assertive, state that you hope the evening is a good one, but that you have other plans. It gets easier, so don't suffer in silence.'

Nicola Pierce, spokeswoman for the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development Attending out of hours drinking sessions is presumably outside the terms and conditions of your employment and as such you can't be forced to go.

If your boss is bullying you then you could consider making a complaint about him. Does the firm have a grievance procedure in place? If so make a complaint following this procedure.

If no policy is firmly set out then you should consider making a complaint to another manager or someone of higher seniority to your boss. Also, it might be worth finding out if there is another department you could work in, should disciplinary action be taken against your boss.

If the bullying is causing you stress then you should consider seeing a doctor. Medical evidence of stress might be more persuasive in getting your complaint dealt with effectively.

The comments by your colleagues may be dealt with by simply stating to them that they are upsetting you. I think your best tactic would be to have a quiet word first and if this fails, then you should consider the formal grievance procedure.

This should really not affect your future with the company - indeed if it alone becomes the reason for you being dismissed then you may have a valid claim to an industrial tribunal.'

Rebecca Reeve, legal administrator at Max Fordham LLP No one should have to endure bullying, in or out of the workplace. It is often difficult to raise such issues. Enlightened companies recognise this and have policies providing an appropriate framework for dealing with such matters.

If yours is not one of these, you will need to consider your options. There are two dynamics that you should consider in your situation - the behaviour of your boss, and that of your colleagues. If there are colleagues in a similar position, you will doubtless feel more comfortable addressing the issue.

Accusations of bullying and unreasonable behaviour can make people very defensive.

However, you will need to raise the matter with your boss. If this fails, or you do not feel able to do this, speak to his or her line manager, and seek advice informally. If nothing happens, you should raise a formal grievance.

However difficult, remember you are the victim and if you don't speak out, this is what you will remain.'

Jon Ward, human resources manager at Skanska

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