Bullying doesn’t stop when you leave the schoolyard.

According to a recent study, 96% of employees in the US have also experienced bullying in the workplace. 89% were targets of bullying for a year or more.

Bullying elevates stress levels and causes mental health issues such as insomnia, anxiety and depression.

In addition, it can result in digestive problems, weight loss or gain, dysfunction of the immune system and even heart disease.

Unfortunately, many companies have working cultures that indirectly support bullying or even reward the behavior.

What is bullying in the workplace?

Most notably, the Workplace Bullying Institute defines bullying as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms: verbal abuse, offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating; or work interference – sabotage – which prevents work from getting done.”

For a long time, workplaces more or less ignored bullying. Employers often blamed the targets of bullying instead of the perpetrators. People downplayed the issue as ‘personal conflicts.’

However, during the last 10 to 15 years, bullying in the workplace has become a subject of research. As a result, companies are taking it more seriously.

Overt bullying

1. Open non-physical aggression

Shouting, threats, name calling, insults

2. Open physical aggression

Physical attacks, physical intimidation like invading personal space, ‘standing over’ someone, pointing, ‘jocular’ jostling and touching

3. Public humiliation.

Public criticism of work or person. Repeated belittling, sarcasm, or ridicule.

4. Terror tactics. 

Threats against unnamed co-workers in public, while also employing exclusion tactics. Unfair invention and change of rules and standards to adversely affect job performance.

5.  Harassment

Sexual, racial, and other hateful behavior.

6. Withholding of pay

Non-payment due to exclusion from overtime opportunities, or by selectively cutting work hours.

7. Threats related to career prospects

All of  these bullying tactics can happen at any level of the company hierarchy.


Covert bullying

1. Unfair task allocation

Placing unreasonable performance demands on the target or giving them meaningless, menial and demeaning tasks in addition to their regular workload

2. Withholding of information

Withholding information needed to execute tasks, including exclusion from meetings or exclusion from department wide information

3. Group manipulation

Indirectly encouraging other employees to isolate the target or to contribute to the bullying

4. Management manipulation

Creating the impression that the target is the problem

Strategies for dealing with bullying in the workplace

First, bullying does not occur because of any ‘weakness’ or problems in the targeted employee. It occurs because of psychological issues in the bully.

Secondly, the onus is not on the bullied employee to deal with the bullying on their own. Most bullies cannot be appeased. Their goal is to exert control.

Unchallenged, bullying often escalates. Consequently, if the workplace is unsupportive, bullied employees will leave at some point. The victim should not pay for being bullied by having to find a new job. The problem is never resolved this way. The bully will just find a different target.

Therefore, company strategies need to be in place that define bullying behavior and outline a clear path to seeking support. Hence, victim protection and confidentiality are paramount.

How to cope if you are being bullied right now

  • Observe the behavior of the bully or bullies.
  • Write down your observations and create a timeline of bullying in the workplace. Don’t try to appease the bully by submitting to the harassment. It will only get worse and encourage the bullies to harass others.
  • Don’t try to confront the bully on your own. Many bullies will see this as a threat to their control and retaliate. As a result, It could even get dangerous.
  • Take your complaint to your manager. If your manager is the bully, take it to HR. Companies have a duty of care towards you. Most of all, this includes your safety at the workplace, both physical and psychological.
  • If your employer doesn’t respond, also take your case to an anti-bullying association and, if necessary, take their advice in taking it to a tribunal.

Awareness of bullying in the workplace has changed a lot in the last 10 years. Thus, your chances of getting justice are much better now.

Finally, remember: when you take action against bullying, you are also protecting others. Most bullies don’t stop bullying, unless or until they are forced to.

For further information, please take a look at my specialty page on individual counseling.