The effect of Workplace Bullying on Family Relationships: From Family Life to Family Strife

New data released from parent support charity Family Lives reveals that workplace bullying is not confined within the confines of to work sphere, but has a significant ‘ripple-effect’ on family members, including children and grandparents.  Over four fifths of survey respondents stated that workplace bullying had affected their family life or close relationships.  

Respondents to Family Lives’ data state that workplace bullying created high levels of stress that was felt inside the workplace and also at home.  This stress manifested itself in feelings of being withdrawn, unable to wind down, hopelessness, anger, depression, and in extreme cases led to panic attacks and having suicidal thoughts:

Family Lives’ ‘From Family Life to Family Strife?’ data found that: 

  • 96% of female respondents felt that there were bullied as a result of their gender compared to 86% of male respondents
  • 95% did not feel that their employers or place of work had sufficiently robust anti-bullying policies in place
  • 81% stated that workplace bullying affected their close relationships and family life outside of work
  • 81% believed that the current financial climate and shortage of jobs is preventing individuals from standing up to workplace bullying
  • 75% stated that they had experienced verbal bullying by employers and/or colleagues
  • 69% had witnessed other colleagues being bullied 
  • 63% of respondents felt that they had been the victims of social bullying
  • 55% of bullying victims had sought medical advice & or counselling 

As highlighted above, Family Lives’ research data found that workplace bullying also has a profound effect on the family dynamic and parental relationships. This is confirmed by current academic research, which suggests that workplace bullying leads the victim to become pre-occupied with the bullying, and leads to changes in the victims ways of communicating with their partner – whether feeling the need to constantly talk about it or withdraw from their partner altogether and the rest of their family.  A number of respondents, were acutely aware of their partner’s frustration with the situation and the fear and worry that this may further damage their relationship as a result.   

Respondents stated: 

‘I lost my sex drive and would take my work problems home which meant I was in a bad mood, quiet and withdrawn’

‘Although my family have been very supportive, there have been times when the problems at work have caused upset and anger between me and my partner who also feels frustrated that there is not more he can do to make people see the truth’

Similarly respondents reported that the ripple effect of the stress associated with workplace bullying extended further than the immediate family relationships and that extended family members were burdened with the stress and worry for the target as quoted below:

‘It puts pressure on my elderly parents who keep having to step in to support my family and I through a very tough time’

‘My 90 year old mother has been devastated’

‘My sister had a go at me today for going on and on about it’

Jeremy Todd, Family Lives Chief Executive said:

“Bullying in the workplace can be a very devastating, distressing and isolating experience. It can leave recipients feeling very low and anxious at the thought of going to work and facing the individual or group that may be subjecting them to this.  Family Lives and BullyingUK has heard from victims who describe being constantly criticised, having duties and responsibility taken away without good reason, being shouted at and put down or made to feel like the butt of the jokes, being constantly ignored, receiving threats about job security without any basis or substance and having promotion or progress blocked within the workplace. Unfortunately, bullying can take its toll on the whole families’ health and wellbeing.  Family members that feel under duress should contact Family Lives’ support team either via Email or LiveOnline Chat, Our service is free & confidential. We are here to support the whole family during this difficult time and we can also refer callers to organisations that specialise in resolving workplace bullying.”

For a number of Family Lives’ respondents, workplace bullying has severely affected their family life and the ability to maintain quality time and relationships with their children.  With recipients stating that: 

‘I was so upset and stressed that I would snap at the slightest thing in house.  Things that previously would have washed over me, crippled me. I was so unhappy’

‘My children didn’t have any quality time with me as I always needed them to get to the bedtime point so I could work or try to work things out’

Particularly worrying data highlighted that: 

  • 44% of respondents were resigned to doing nothing and were simply prepared to ‘put up with it’
  • 38% had discussed their workplace bullying experiences informally with friends and or other colleagues.
  • 30% had sought medical treatment 
  • When asked to identify the perpetrators of bullying; respondents indicated that:
  • 45% indicated that their Line Manager was responsible
  • 25% identified a senior manager or CEO
  • 28% a fellow colleague
  • 32.2% indicated that bullying had taken place for longer than a 12 month period 

Quotes from people bullied by colleagues (and demonstrating “workplace mobbing” behaviour) included: 

“I am always looking out for false accusations from my colleagues. I am obsessed about not making mistakes”

“After many times trying to get this stopped by my employer without success I tried to commit suicide”. “ I have now been off work for many weeks and have suffered depression throughout the six years that this has been happening. 

I feel really uneasy at work or scared about the people usually ridicule my work” 

“I feel blackmailed and like there’s always another person out there to do my job… it’s affected my work and nervous all the time at work unable to concentrate and feel secure” 

“I was watched and made to feel small by comments whenever  I done anything, felt like my every move and action was been looked at and made me feel uncomfortable. I ended up working alone.”

Family Lives’ Key Tips for Employers Who Wish To Tackle Bullying In The Workplace

  • Like any workplace issue, fostering a culture that is free of bullying needs to come from the top down. Always be proactive; firstly you need to have a bullying and harassment policy in place, making it clear that this type of behaviour is considered a gross misconduct and those found guilty will be dismissed. 
  • The policy must not be a ‘tick box exercise’ but a real commitment to building a working environment that values all of the team. 
  • Words alone won't change a thing, so the next step is to train managers so they understand what constitutes bullying and harassing behaviour. Perhaps this is a good opportunity to reflect on their management style as well as build awareness of discrimination characteristics which are often the precursor for ridicule. 
  • Bullying and harassment may be verbal, non-verbal, written or physical. It is therefore important that examples are laid out in a policy so that all staff are aware of their own behaviour and can take responsibility for it.
  • While employers should encourage employees who believe they are being harassed or bullied to notify the offender that their behaviour is unwelcome (by words or by conduct), it is worth recognising that this is not always possible. 
  • It is important to make clear to employees that all allegations of harassment or bullying will be taken seriously, confidentially and that grievances or complaints of harassment will not be ignored or treated lightly. 
  • Communicate the procedure to employees so they understand how to make a formal grievance, who the employee needs to speak to (normally their manager) and what will happen after the incident has been reported.

Family Lives’ Key Tips for Employees Who Wish To Tackle Bullying In The Workplace

  • All employees need to commit to any company or organisations’ zero tolerance policy, be honest about their own behaviour, be prepared to report transgressions and actively support those that are bullied, rather than hide behind a wall of silence and look the other way when abuses take place. 
  • If ever we needed a policy of ‘stand up and be counted’ it is to combat bullying. 
  • For those who are targeted by bullies, the worst feeling is that of helplessness. You can take control again. 
  • Firstly confide in someone you trust. Then keep a diary logging each and every incident that makes you feel belittled or afraid. 
  • Note down the names of people who witnessed this. Hearsay evidence is not relevant, so this detail is really important. 
  • Log what occurred but also how it made you feel. The writing of a diary is quite a cathartic experience in itself and empowers the employee by understanding that it is not them that has the problem, but the bully. 


Parents, adult carers and family members concerned about other family issues can call the free Family Lives Helpline: 0808 800 2222 or visit


Notes to editors: 

1: Family Lives is a national charity that works for, and with, parents. We encourage parents to see that asking for help is a sign of strength, and work with them to offer practical solutions and suggestions to manage their particular situations and difficulties. We deliver this support through an innovative range of free, flexible, responsive services - shaped by parents for parents. Our services include a free online chat service; a free confidential, helpline 0808 800 2222; Email support; parenting groups and workshops; a helpful, interactive website for parents; volunteer opportunities.

2:157 respondents filled in Family Lives’ Survey Monkey on Bullying in the Workplace.