The Truth About Workplace Bullying

'Bullying' has become a buzz word and hot top in our schools and in relation to our children in recent years. What we fail to recognize is that adults can also be targets of bullying, most often in the workplace.


Workplace bulling can be defined as a persistent pattern of mistreatment from others in the workplace that causes physical or emotional harm. It can include such tactics as verbal, nonverbal, psychological abuse, physical abuse, and humiliation.


Workplace aggression is particularly difficult because, unlike the typical school bully, workplace bullies often operate within the established rules and policies of their organization.


Because workplace bullying can occur in a variety of context and form, it is important to look for the key features that bullying behavior posses. Bullying can be characterized by:

  • Repetition (occurs regularly)
  • Duration (in enduring)
  • Escalation (increasing aggression)
  • Power disparity
  • Attributed intent
The bullying can be covert or overt, and is often missed by superiors.


The common misconception is that, like schoolyard bullying, the targets of workplace bullying are loners or "weird" or people who don't fit in. In fact, the reverse is true. People become targets because something about them is threatening to the bully. Often the targets of workplace bullying are the more skilled workers, workplace veterans, or employees that are just liked better by their co-workers. 


Two traits found is workplace bullies is that they are skilled at manipulating and controlling. They tend to see everything as a competition and don't feel adequate enough to compete on their own merits. Therefore, they bully as an attempt to feel more powerful.


The workplace bully works hard to create the perception that they are strong by putting down and blaming others. Often the boss of the bully knows the bully is disliked, but thinks that the organization cannot do without them and makes allowances. The bullying, instead of being categorized as what it is, is often framed as a 'personality conflict.'


The victim often ends up with no other choice but to leave. Research as show that the vast majority of targets eventually leave. It is almost a certain guarantee that the cycle will repeat itself.

The consequence the company faces is possible litigation, high employee turnover rates, the costs of hiring and training a new employee, and increased absences (to name a few).  


Nearly half of American workers (49%) report that they have been affected by workplace bullying, either having been a target themselves or having witnessed abusive behavior against a co-workers. Men are more likely to participate in aggressive bullying behavior (60%); however, when the bully is a woman her target is more likely to be a woman as well (71%).

No state has an anti-bullying law for the workplace and at this time, there is no plan to create a federal law to address workplace bullying. Only 20% of workplace bullying suits or claims fall under the anti-discrimination law. In order to claim a hostile work environment, the victim or target of the mistreatment must be a member of a protected status group - race, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, or disability. For example, if you are a white female being bullied by a white female you are not protected under the law. 

Workplace bullying is mostly psychological and verbal. Most laws protect against acts and threats of physical violence. Therefore, bullying that is only verbal and not physical is completely legal.


Co-workers who witness bullying  help make a change. Check out 6 Steps to Take If You See Workplace Bullying. You can also help get the Workplace Wellness Bill passed. Speak up! The bullying not only affects the victim, but the victim's co-workers as well.

If you are being bullied at work start by naming it- bullying, physiological harassment, psychological violence, emotional abuse. Naming the problem offsets the effect of being told that since your problem is not illegal, you cannot possibly have a problem. The Workplace Bullying Institute offers additional steps as to what to do if you find yourself a victim of workplace bullying.


  1. Thank you for sharing this! Too often people don't realize how real workplace bullying it is. It's at an all time high right now.

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  2. I love that you shared this. I think that people don't necessarily believe (or know) that bullying DOES exist in the workplace. I worked in a small agency in NH dominated by men, and I can fully attest to the fact that it exists.

  3. Such a complicated web people weave, just because they are insecure. I saw some bullying when I first joined a work place and I was so young I didn't know how to handle an adult being so rude to another human. Especially, when she was my boss.

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