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Workplace Bullying: How to spot it, its connection to the S of ESG and what to do about it?

Workplace Bullying: How to spot it, its connection to the S of ESG and what to do about it?

Written by Dr Georgina Tsagas, this article delves into the causes behind “The Big Quit” in workplaces, identifying toxic work environments, poor leadership, and ineffective conflict management as key factors. Companies now face increasing pressure to align with the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standards. However, for true sustainability, addressing harmful workplace behaviours is crucial. Do you agree?


The ‘Big Quit’ or otherwise termed ‘The Great Resignation’ has been reported by the media and latest research to be the result of toxic work environments, toxic leadership behaviours and weak internal processes handling workload and conflict in the workplace. Organisations and companies are under pressure to align with Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standards in their sustainability reporting and to integrate the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in their governance and business operations. To operate sustainably however, priority must be given to handling unsustainable behaviours in a sustainable way, through preventative, timely, efficient and effective means.

Sigmund Freud was once asked what people need in order to be able to live a full and happy life and his reply was three words in the German language: “Lieben und arbeiten,” meaning to love and to work. Without a doubt, work is one of the most defining, overarching aspects of our lives and as Freud affirms it is a need of the human psyche to have some sort of productive role in society with work allowing us essentially to devote our energies to something bigger than ourselves.

The notion of work does not limit itself to tasks, duties and outputs per se, but it also includes our relationships with our colleagues, our clients and our managers, the environment in which we work (meaning the environment in which we grow and develop in), how we receive appreciation and constructive feedback for improvement, and how we experience general emotional well-being and safety whilst at work.

In the workplace coping with aggressive managers and co-workers has been seen until recently as an essential part of surviving in a tough and competitive world (Ironside and Seifert, 2003). The impact of bullying in the workplace has often been bypassed, swept under the carpet in the drive for outputs and taking the back-seat in businesses’ priorities to focus on the constant changes, demands for accountability and the need to be flexible and creative in the market. Turning a blind eye to work-place bullying however is no longer considered acceptable and this is evidenced by the numerous reported incidents especially post the initial pandemic outbreak worldwide.

According to research, bullying steals an individual’s self-esteem and undermines self-confidence and results in psychological and physical symptoms of stress (Field, 1996). These symptoms vary from loss of sleep, headaches, fatigue, panic attacks, depression, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and occasionally suicide. Individuals are not the only ones that pay the cost. Organisations do too. The intangible costs of reduced productivity, low morale and the potential loss of the goodwill of stakeholders (White, 2007) should be taken as a given in such cases.

How do we distinguish bullying from normal conflict? How does bullying differ from harassment? Can both co-exist? The distinguishing factor between bullying and conflict is that according to the perception of the bully or in the case of mobbing, the perception of the mob (others), there exists an imbalance of physical or social power between the two sides, which manifests into unacceptable behaviour being exercised by the former onto the latter compromising the victim’s dignity at work. Force, coercion, hurtful teasing, intimidation are only some examples of such behaviour. Harassment will exist if the victim is being bullied or mobbed because of their age, race, gender, sexuality and/or religion and other protected by law characteristics.

Be it the victim, the innocent bystander, the workplace colleague observer or the informed senior or top management executive, all can play a role in controlling and managing unsustainable behaviour, such as bullying.

In support of the individuals subject to these behaviours, conflict coaching can help support people and teams manage their disputes regarding these workplace concerns with the offering of practical and emotional support. Conflict coaching is a structured confidential process, on a one-on-one basis, that supports individuals and teams build or enhance their skills, knowledge and competencies, to more effectively engage in and manage interpersonal conflict. If you are part of the management team in your company or organisation and want to reinforce ground rules regarding acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, renewing leadership practices using a progressive outlook, then in house training on sustainable behaviours and practices, conflict resolution tools and what mediation is will help your organisation to work more effectively making sure that you prevent such behaviours. Training and policy embedding can also resolve differences as they emerge, where both damages and costs are limited. Transformative mediation specifically equips the organisation to handle reconciliation in a peer-to-peer relationship that has fallen apart.

In considering options on how to steer through such situations, you can contact GT Mediation | Dispute Resolution in order to jointly examine the type of support you as an individual, team or organisation may require and to that end a complimentary 20 minute initial online consultation is offered. For enquiries on initial information meetings and conflict coaching and to book a session with our team, please contact us at

For all involved, it is important to signpost the use of Conciliators and Mediators. Such third-party neutrals should always be considered as a valid contribution at any stage of conflict, as well as and especially in cases of reported bullying and harassment. The practice of mediation has a wider scope than simply ‘resolving disputes’, as mediators can help analyse a situation that breeds conflicts, prevent the appearance and recurrence of issues through tailored recommendations, consulting and training, and resolution through transformative mediation. The need for the victim to be supported during this time is found in the fact that there are around 40 community mediation organisations in the United Kingdom, which support individuals experiencing conflict at home, in the workplace or with neighbours. In a Pilot Scheme to alleviate suffering Medical GP Doctors in the UK and a mediation providers are now working together.

The objective of GT Mediation is to provide individuals and organisations with legal mediation services in the United Kingdom and Greece, with conflict management consulting and coaching worldwide, to educate the wider public and train professionals on legal mediation services and conflict management and to provide restorative support services to individuals and teams enduring dispute induced psychological trauma during and after engaging in relational conflict and litigation processes.

This article was first published in the Article for the LinkedIn Newsletter Conflict No More.

Dr Georgina Tsagas

PhD (London); LLM (London); CMC 2023 Associate Mediator; Consultant Solicitor, Eng & Wls; DI.KE.PSY Counselling

Dr Georgina Tsagas is dually accredited as an Associate Mediator in Civil and Commercial disputes with the Civil Mediation Council and registered with Clerksroom for Barristers and Mediators in the United Kingdom, and as a Greek Family and Commercial Mediator certified by the Hellenic Ministry of Justice. As the Founder of GT Mediation | Dispute Resolution, which provides mediation, conflict coaching and dispute resolution consulting and training services globally, she helps people and organisations resolve disputes by coupling her diverse and rich background of experience in the fields of private, commercial and sustainability law with her training in psychoanalysis counselling at DI.KE.PSY. Georgina is published widely in scientific journals, in edited books and on legal opinion-research platforms ranking at the top 2% globally of all Social Sciences Research Network authors – in excess of 1.1 million. Since 2013 she has held a series of full-time and affiliate academic posts at top ranked Law Schools of Russell Group Higher Education Institutions in the United Kingdom, including University College London Faculty of Laws, Bristol University Law School and King’s College University Dickson Poon School of Law, among others.

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