Workplace bullying has doubled

BBC show The Office, Ricky Gervais as David Brent and Lucy Davis as Dawn
Having a boss like David Brent in The Office is not always that funny

The number of people suffering forms of bullying such as teasing, intimidation and physical abuse at work has doubled in the last decade, according to new figures from the union Unison.

They say that despite many employers introducing policies to try to deal with the problem, a new law is needed to protect staff against bullies.

Many people think of bullying as a problem facing children at school, college or on social networking sites and expect things do be different when they enter the "professional" world of work.

But the latest research by Unison, the largest public sector union, suggests that more than a third of workers have experienced bullying in the last six months.

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Psychological torture

Lyn Witheridge is from the Andrea Adams Trust, the first charity to deal with work place bullying.

"Bullying is a brutal form of psychological torture," she said. "It is to be persistently criticised, openly humiliated, professionally undermined and isolated day after day."

Jessica, 27, from Southampton says she has experienced psychological abuse from her manager.

"A lot of the stresses I was put under were mental," she said. "They would lie so we had the blame for other things, probably daily, if not multiple times in a day."

Jessica says she was also at the receiving end of physical abuse.

"The boss would throw office equipment at us," she explained. "Things like hole punchers and staplers, anything that was to hand at the time, in anger at us because things had gone wrong."

Being bullied at work may not just affect people's physical and mental health though, it can also hit their personal life. Sarah worked in health care.

She said: "I felt really tired, I used to loose my appetite and get headaches and I didn't have the time to be with my friends or to go out because I was so stressed out about having to face the next day."

Days off

More than 13 million working days a year are lost in the UK because of work-related stress, anxiety and depression, according to recent research from the National Institute of Clinical Excellence.

"If you're bullied you have difficulty concentrating, difficulty making decisions, become socially withdrawn," psychologist Carey Cooper explained.

Office scene
People experiencing workplace bullying often take days off because of stress

"People who are bullied have significantly more sickness absence days at work than people who haven't been bullied."

There are laws to protect employees from discrimination covering race, gender and religion.

But Hugh Robertson from the union group the TUC is just one of the campaigners who don't think they're enough.

"There is a need for a quite robust legal framework," he said. "We'd like to see a specific duty on employers to deal with bullying, and that at the moment doesn't exist."

The government department which deals with this said in a statement: "Bullying and harassment is never acceptable in the workplace and a change in work culture rather than legislation is key."

Note: Some names have been changed to protect the identity of bullying victims.