MANY victims of bullying suffer in silence or alone, afraid that if they speak up, they may lose their much-needed jobs.

Being bullied is no joke as it can take a toll on your health. Something needs to be done.

Singapore does not have any legislation specifically covering workplace bullying.

But if you encounter unfair treatment or feel threatened, says the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (Tafep), you can approach your supervisor, human resource department or union for advice and assistance.

(Not all experts recommend these options, however.)

"If the threat involves physical harm, the employee should consider making a police report," says a Tafep spokesman.

And if the bully is the supervisor, the employee may want to bring up the matter with someone more senior or approach the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for advice and assistance, he says.

Reed Specialist Recruitment head of South-east Asia operations Deepali Chaturvedi thinks you should meet your boss behind closed doors and highlight how specific incidents have made you feel threatened.

If this fails, your next step could be to approach a neutral party such as a senior HR member and seek his advice, she says.

Of course, companies also have a part to play. Mr John Harris, the Asia Pacific HR head at Alexander Mann Solutions, says they should have clear guidelines on what constitutes bullying - frequently overlooked in the workplace.

"Have an escalation or feedback process available for people who feel they've been bullied.

"Be open to feedback about bullying (that is, HR needs to ensure it knows how to manage the research and background process)."

MOM also advises employers to "provide grievances procedures to enable their employees to raise concerns or report workplace problems, including unfair or unreasonable treatment, so that such problems could be effectively addressed", says a spokesman.

Mr Harris says confronting the bully is not helpful. To him, mediation, which should be part of the interaction process with HR, is the best way to deal with workplace bullying. And it is not a solo effort. His advice is to get independent witnesses or observers who can provide feedback about the situation and how it occurs.

"If it is genuinely bullying, then there are processes, corrections or interventions which need to occur to change that person's behaviour," says Mr Harris.

Depending on the situation, some may still choose to confront the bully head-on.

But for many, this can be difficult. Dr Gary Namie, founder of the US-based Workplace Bullying Institute, has said that a lot of people who are targeted can't fight back as they don't have it in them.

Confronting the bully also brings with it a fear of retaliation. The alternative, he has said, is to involve human resources, a higher manager or an outside advocate, such as a consultant or lawyer, and make sure you document the abuse. Also, gather data about the economic impact the bully has had on the employer.

A recent blog entry on the advocacy group's website says that before people who are bullied search the Internet for "workplace bullying", they tend to make two common mistakes. "They report the misconduct to HR and they tell their bully's boss. The sequence varies, but relief coming from one or both sources is rare."

The reason: The bully-boss relationship gets in the way. "Veteran bullies know how to ingratiate themselves with... people in authority so they will be seen in a positive light."

Plus, "you are bringing bad news about someone considered indispensable".

The other problem with telling the bully's boss is that he simply does not know what to do. Often, the answer will be: "Work it out between yourselves."

"This is wrong-headed. Managers... are ducking responsibility by trying to make victims solve the problem they neither deserved nor invited," says the blog entry.

"The bully's bosses are afraid of emotion-charged interactions and worry about the messiness of it all."

Doing nothing makes the bully's boss an accomplice.

Here are other steps you can take, says Dr Elizabeth Nair, lead psychologist and chief executive of Singapore-based Work and Health Psychologists:

Find friends at work you can relate to informally, so you will not be completely isolated socially and emotionally at the workplace.

Talk to your friends during permitted breaks such as lunchtime. (Use your mobile phone so you will not be accused of using the office phone for personal use.) Have lunch with them if you can so that it is clear you do have friends of your own.

Try to ignore unpleasant behaviour. "Paying attention to bad behaviour is rewarding for the bully and encourages him to repeat it again," says Dr Nair.

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute's website, victims should expose the bully but also have an escape route planned as "good employers purge bullies, most promote them".

So, you may want to consider leaving the company, especially if it is a small one, for the sake of your health.

Says Ms Chaturvedi: "If the organisation culture supports or rewards bullying, then you have to seriously consider if this environment is right for you."

If you choose to leave, the institute's advice is to still expose the bully, not so much to get him fired but more for the sake of your mental health.

"Targets who skulk away in silence, shrouded in personal shame, suffer the most," it says on its website. "It can take a year or more to rebound to the point of being able to seek work. Those who leave proudly bounce back the fastest."