Purpose: This article takes a critical look at anti-bullying initiatives at work. It questions current prescriptive thinking about effective ways of tackling workplace bullying, illuminating neglected contextual conditions and organizational constraints that affect attempts to develop and sustain pre-emptive management programmes. Design/Approach: A qualitative case approach was employed for a comparative analysis of two anti-bullying initiatives, one each in the public and private sectors. Findings: The case results challenge the popular belief that business needs provide an impetus to coherent action against mistreatment at work, revealing the significance of local reactions and the mediating influence of competing subcultures and group identities on the ‘working out’ of formal initiatives. Research implications: This research underlines the importance of extending bullying research to include more in-depth and applied work on the problems of enacting and sustaining anti-bullying initiatives. Practical implications: Effective action against bullying involves more than policy-making, rule-forming and guideline-setting. It is important to cultivate the resilience of those at the sharp end of anti-bullying projects, and engage with managers and employees who experience difficulties or confront unpalatable changes to their work situation as anti-bullying initiatives develop. Originality: This article casts light on an under-researched area, since available literature concentrates on the underlying causes and consequences of workplace bullying. Prescriptions for tackling the problem tend to be drawn out of causal and impact studies with limited empirical evidence about their viability, or analysis of possible constraints on their implementation.