01/07/2021 – Our general enquiries telephone number changed to 0300 369 0689. All calls to our old number are diverted for a limited period. For more information read our latest update.

Scheduled maintenance: We will be performing scheduled maintenance to our IT infrastructure on Friday 17th September 2021 at 13:00 pm until Tuesday 21st September 2021. During this period, it may impact on our ability to receive emails. Please bear with us.

November 2016 – Bullying

Sign bully

You might be surprised to learn that the majority of Service complaints made by members of the Armed Forces are not about bullying but about Terms and Conditions of Service (TACOS). However, while complaints about bullying are a minority, they are a significant minority. While the majority of Service personnel will go through their careers without experiencing unfair treatment of any kind, as it is anti-bullying week I thought it would be a good opportunity to write about the issue of bullying – what it is, who can you can speak to if it happens to you (or you see it happening) and how to make a complaint.

In 2016 members of the Armed Forces made a total of 766 Service complaints. 16% of these complaints were about bullying. So what is bullying?

There is no legal definition of bullying but it is generally accepted to mean any unwanted negative behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended. Bullying can take many forms and can include:

  • gossiping or spreading rumours
  • excluding someone
  • overloading someone with work or setting them an impossible task
  • deliberately withholding information that someone needs to do their job
  • copying emails that criticise an individual or their work performance to others where there is no need to do so
  • treating someone unfairly
  • humiliating or belittling someone in a public situation

In general bullying behaviour occurs repeatedly over a period of time but it can also be an isolated event. Bullying isn’t only perpetrated by those in a position of authority against the people they manage. It can take place between peers or a more junior employee could be bullying someone more senior. It can be between two individuals or it could involve a group of people.

It is not always easy to identify bullying. At times it will be obvious to not only to the person being bullied but to others around them. In other situations it may take time for the individual to realise they are being bullied or the bullying could be hidden from other people. The negative behaviour may be obvious to all, but accepted as normal by many (what is seen as acceptable to one person may not be to another). In some instances individuals will try to dismiss bullying behaviour as nothing more than “robust management” or “strong leadership”, although this is dangerous territory as it can often be used to cover up or excuse unacceptable behaviour.

Even taking this into account, we know that the level of bullying reported through the Service complaints system is not an accurate reflection of how many individuals actually believe they have been bullied. The Armed Forces Continuous Attitudes Survey 2016 showed that while 11% of respondents reported experiencing some form of bullying, harassment or discrimination, only 9% of those individuals made a formal complaint. Although a small proportion of those individuals resolved their complaint informally or via mediation, the most frequent reasons given for not making a complaint were lack of faith in the complaints process and concerns regarding impact on career.

This simply isn’t acceptable.

Bullying has no place in any work environment, including the Armed Forces. If you see someone being bullied you need to have the moral courage to report it. If you are being bullied you need to tell someone. Don’t be afraid to speak up – to be treated unfairly for complaining about bullying is victimisation and that is against the law.

If think or know you are being bullied and aren’t sure what to do you can speak to your Equality and Diversity Advisor or contact:

Forcesline A free and confidential telephone hotline and email service run by SSAFA that provides support for current and former Service personnel and their families. 0800 731 4880

SSAFA email enquiry


Speak Out A confidential phone line for Army personnel run by the Bullying Harassment and Discrimination Team. 01264 381 922 (civilian)

94391 7922 (military)


If you want to make a formal complaint about bullying it is your right to do so. You can make this complaint direct to your chain of command or you can ask me to refer a potential complaint on your behalf. Your complaint will not be handled by the person it is about.

Although I do not have the power to investigate complaints in place of the chain of command, I can investigate specific aspects of how the Service has handled a complaint and have oversight of the system as a whole. I hope that my new role and powers will increase the level of confidence personnel have in the Service complaints process. For more information read what the ombudsman does.