How to Deal With Workplace Bullying

There has been a renewed recognition of bullying in the schools of America. Most have adopted a no bullying policy that is strictly adhered to. What is under recognized is the amount of workplace bullying that is practiced in many companies. Whether it is instigated by a superior or a peer, it is an insidious attack that comprises the company’s values and undermines the victim’s health and well being.


Workplace bullying takes many forms and is often hard to prove. It masks itself as joking, sarcasm and often an undervaluing of an employee’s performance. It adds additional stress to the victim which can translate into lost work hours and often increased health problems causing absenteeism and lost wages. Although it is not quite as blatant as sexual harassment, bullying may have a far longer run and cause extreme problems for the victim. Company morale can plummet causing a loss in productivity. Bullying often affects more than the victim, it will also have a profound affect on people who witness it. It will definitely cause a change to the company culture if left unchecked.

Statistics from the 2007 WBI-Zogby survey shows that 13% of US employees report being bullied currently, 24% claim to have been bullied in the past and 12% say they have witnessed bullying in the workplace. This statistic indicates a real problem that has caused 16 US states to initiate legislation directly citing bullying. Many countries around the world have already passed legislation, including the United Kingdom, Sweden, Canada and Ireland.

The first step in combating bullying is to recognize when it occurs. Looking at the right indicators is important. Is the behavior repetitive? Is it escalating? Is the object of the bullying unable to successfully defend them? Is the behavior attributable to mal-intent? Certainly these are red flags that should at least make us investigate further.

Studies have recognized that there are 5 types of bullying behavior in the workplace:

  1. a distinct threat to professional status- belittling, humiliation, intimidating and misuse of discipline.
  2. a clear threat to personal standing among colleagues-inappropriate jokes, teasing, name calling, insults, and sarcasm.
  3. Isolating an individual-lessen opportunities, professional & personal separation, and excluding from functions, meetings or information.
  4. Extra workload-adding impossible deadlines, disruptions to the work flow
  5. lack of recognition-good work that is unacknowledged, meaningless tasks, constant reminding of mistakes.

Micromanagement and disrespect for an individual may not seem like bullying but it is subtle and long lasting and works to deprive a person of confidence and self esteem causing additional stress levels. Bullying in the workplace is often compared to domestic violence. It keeps the victim off balance with the hope that it will end and the fear that more abuse will occur at any time unexpectedly.

Exterminating bullying from the workplace will only take place when we recognize where and when it occurs. If you are being bullied you should make a detailed record with dates, examples and comments made. You should then take it further up the chain. If it is a superior doing the bullying go to their superior or to the personnel department and as a last resort the head of the company. If all these steps fail, you can go to the National Labor Board, where they will expect you to have facts, dates and any documentation that can be provided.  The best course of action is to refuse to be bullied, refuse to allow anyone else to be bullied and shine the light of day on the problem, wherever it occurs.

You can read more about bullying in the workplace at these sources:

Adams, Andrea – Bullying at Work: How to Confront and Overcome It

Barnes, Patricia G. – Surviving Bullies, Queen Bees & Psychopaths in the Workplace

Brodsky, Carol M. – The Harassed Worker