WORKPLACE BULLYING: Definition, Types & All You Need To Know

workplace bullying
Image credit: AWK

Bullies in the workplace have always existed. However, they’re now being recognized as productivity killers and even legal liabilities for businesses. According to certain studies, one out of every three employees will be bullied at work. According to experts, bullying costs firms more than $200 billion a year in lost productivity, absenteeism, and high turnover. Hence, we have crafted this post to address workplace bullying.

What Is Workplace Bullying?

Workplace bullying is when your boss (or management), another employee, or a group of employees verbally, physically, socially, or psychologically abuses you at work.

Workplace bullying can occur in a variety of settings, including companies, stores, cafes, restaurants, seminars, community organizations, and government agencies.

Volunteers, work experience students, interns, apprentices, and casual and permanent employees are all susceptible to workplace bullying.

Some forms of workplace bullying are punishable by law. You can contact the police directly if you have been the victim of violence, assault, or stalking.

Identifying Workplace Bullying

Bullying can take many forms. Consider how others could see what’s going on while you’re trying to spot bullying. This can, at least in part, be determined by the circumstances. However, if the majority of individuals regard a particular action as irrational, it is most likely bullying.

Types of bullying

  • Verbal. This could include mockery, humiliation, jokes, gossip, or other spoken abuse.
  • Intimidating. This might include threats, social exclusion in the workplace, spying, or other invasions of privacy.
  • Related to work performance. Examples include wrongful blame, work sabotage or interference, or stealing or taking credit for ideas.
  • Retaliatory. In some cases, talking about bullying can lead to accusations of lying, further exclusion, refused promotions, or other retaliation.
  • Institutional. Institutional bullying happens when a workplace accepts, allows, and even encourages bullying to take place. This bullying might include unrealistic production goals, forced overtime, or singling out those who can’t keep up.

Bullying is a pattern of action that is repeated over time. This distinguishes it from harassment, which is frequently limited to a single incident. Persistent harassment can turn into bullying, but unlike bullying, harassment is prohibited since it involves behaviors directed against a protected group of people.

Bullying can have a variety of early warning signs:

  • Co-workers can get quiet or leave the room as you walk in, or they might simply ignore you.
  • You can be excluded from office activities like chitchat, parties, and team lunches.
  • Your supervisor or boss might check on you constantly or ask you to meet many times a week without a good cause.
  • You may be expected to complete new activities or work outside your regular duties without training or help, even when you request it.
  • It may appear that your work is constant, to the point that you begin to doubt yourself and struggle with routine tasks.

How Can Bullying Affect Your Health?

Bullying can have major consequences for one’s physical and emotional health.

While leaving a job or switching departments may be the best approach to stop the bullying, this isn’t always doable. Even if you are able to remove yourself from the abusive environment, the effects of bullying can persist for a long time.

#1. Physical health effects of bullying

If you’re being bullied, you may:

  • feel sick or anxious before work or when thinking about work
  • have physical symptoms, such as digestive issues or high blood pressure
  • A higher risk for type 2 diabetes
  • have trouble waking up or getting quality sleep
  • have somatic symptoms, such as headaches and decreased appetite

#2. Mental health effects of bullying

Psychological effects of bullying may include:

  • thinking and worrying about work constantly, even during time off
  • dreading work and wanting to stay home
  • needing time off to recover from stress
  • losing interest in things you usually like to do
  • increased risk for depression and anxiety
  • suicidal thoughts
  • low self-esteem
  • self-doubt, or wondering if you’ve imagined the bullying

How Does Bullying Affect the Workplace?

Workplaces with high rates of bullying can also experience negative consequences, such as:

  • financial loss resulting from legal costs or bullying investigations
  • decreased productivity and morale
  • increased employee absences
  • high turnover rates
  • poor team dynamics
  • reduced trust, effort, and loyalty from employees

Bullies may face formal reprimands, transfer, or job loss as a result of their actions. Bullying, on the other hand, isn’t always unlawful.

Bullying gets easier to continue when it is not addressed, especially when the bullying is subtle. Bullies who take credit for others’ work or purposefully make others look bad may be praised or promoted.

What to Do If You’re Being Bullied at Work

When you’re being bullied, it’s natural to feel helpless and unable to stop it. You may be intimidated or warned that no one will believe you if you try to stand up to the bully. You may be unsure who to tell if your boss is bullying you.

First and foremost, remember that bullying is never your responsibility, regardless matter what caused it. Even if someone bullies you by making you appear incapable of doing your job, bullying is about power and control, not your ability to do your job.

Begin by taking the following steps to combat bullying:

#1. Document the bullying

Keep a written record of all bullying incidents. Make a note of the date, time, location, and other people who were there when the bullying happen.

#2. Save physical evidence

Even if they’re unsigned, keep any threatening notes, comments, or emails you receive. Keep any papers that can be used to indicate bullying, such as refused PTO requests, unnecessarily harsh comments on assigned work, and so on, in a secure location.

#3. Report the bullying

If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your immediate boss, your employer may have a designated person you can talk to. An excellent place to start is with human resources. If your supervisor is unhelpful or is the one who is bullying you, you can also speak with someone higher up about the situation.

#3. Confront the bully

If you know who is bullying you, bring a trusted witness with you, such as a coworker or supervisor, and ask them to stop if you feel safe doing so. Maintain a calm, direct, and courteous demeanor.

#4. Review work policies

Steps to take or regulations against bullying may be outlined in your employee handbook. Consider looking into state or perhaps federal legislation about the type of bullying you’re dealing with.

Depending on the circumstances of the bullying, you might want to consult a lawyer. Although legal action is not always possible, a lawyer can provide particular guidance.

#6. Reach out to others

Coworkers might be able to assist you. Talking to your family and friends about the bullying might also be beneficial. You can also seek the advice of a therapist. They can offer expert assistance and assist you in determining how to cope with the effects of bullying while you pursue other options.
If you belong to a union, your representative may be able to provide advice and support on how to deal with bullying.

You might also inquire about your company’s employee support program if one exists. EAPs assist you in gaining access to resources to help you deal with a number of challenges that might influence your mental health and overall well-being.

Who Gets Bullied and Who

Anyone can bully others. According to 2017 research from the Workplace Bullying Institute:

  • About 70 percent of bullies are male, and about 30 percent are female.
  • Both male and female bullies are more likely to target women.
  • Sixty-one percent of bullying comes from bosses or supervisors. Thirty-three percent comes from co-workers. The remaining 6 percent occurs when people at lower employment levels bully their supervisors or others above them.
  • Protected groups are bullied more frequently. Only 19 percent of people bullied were white.

Managerial bullying might include unjustified poor performance reviews, yelling or threats of fire or demotion, or denying time off or a transfer to another department.

Bullying is common among coworkers, and it might take the form of gossip, work sabotage, or criticism. Bullying can occur between coworkers, but it can also occur between departments.

People from other departments may be more likely to bully each other via email or hearsay.

Employees at lower levels can bully those at higher positions. Someone might, for example:

  • the show continued disrespect to their manager
  • refuse to complete tasks
  • spread rumors about the manager
  • do things to make their manager seem incompetent

What is Considered a Toxic Work Environment?

A hostile work environment is one in which unfavorable, confrontational, or bullying behavior is institutionalized at every level of the organization. Employees are under stress in a toxic work environment, communication is restricted, there is a pervasive culture of pointing the finger at others, and people are rewarded (either tacitly or openly) for unethical, damaging, or nasty attitudes and actions.

What is Gaslighting in the Workplace?

At work, gaslighting occurs when a coworker or your supervisor (referred to as the “gaslighter”) manipulates you to the point that you begin to question your own sanity, memory, or impressions of events. This can be accomplished by the gaslighter making false claims about events in the past, playing down the significance of your feelings, or recounting the story in such a way that places the blame on you.

What is Disrespectful Behavior in the Workplace?

Some behaviors that are considered disrespectful are engaging in harmful gossip, making threats or using intimidation, giving individuals quiet treatment, and using profanity when it is not appropriate. Even though it is not against the law, showing disrespect to employees lowers morale and is often the first step toward harassment and even possible violence in the workplace.

Is My Workplace Toxic or is it Me?

Confusion, arbitrary deadlines, a lack of focus, and a general melancholy that “this is the way it’s always been done” characterize toxic workplaces. There is a broader issue that is the result of poor management if there is a constant addition of new laws or regulations, and if management is never present to assist in problem-solving, these are symptoms of the larger issue.

How to help when you witness bullying

Speak up if you see someone being bullied. People are often afraid to speak up for fear of becoming targets, yet tolerating bullying adds to a toxic workplace.

Workplace anti-bullying rules can make people feel more comfortable speaking up when they witness bullying. If you see someone being bullied, you can aid by:

#1. Offering support

If the individual being wishes to beg the bully to stop, support could include acting as a witness. You can also assist by accompanying a coworker to HR.

#2. Listening

If your coworker is hesitant to approach HR, having someone to chat with about the problem may be beneficial.

#3. Reporting the incident

Your narrative of what occurred may assist your management team in recognizing an issue.

#4. Staying close to your co-worker

whenever it is possible. Having a sympathetic coworker nearby may help decrease bullying incidents.

When Should You Quit a Job?

When you find that you are no longer motivated to do the tasks required of you on a daily basis, when you feel overworked or burned out, or when you wish to advance beyond your current position into a more advanced one, it may be time to consider quitting your job. These are some of the warning indications that it could be time for you to find a new work, one that is more satisfying and more suited to your requirements.

What is it Called When You are Singled Out at Work?

When you treat people differently on the basis of a “protected class,” such as their race, gender, religion, or nationality, you run the risk of running afoul of the law. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), it is against the law to subject someone to disparate treatment, which is defined as being singled out at work because of their membership in a protected class.

Can You Be Fired for Reporting a Coworker?

The act of filing a complaint is regarded as legally protected behavior, which means that your employer cannot retaliate against you for engaging in the behavior. If you come out with a complaint, your employer will not be able to terminate you or take any other retaliatory action against you because of it. Your employer is not permitted to fire you, demote you, reduce your pay, or reassign you to a different position.


In many businesses, bullying is a severe problem. While many businesses have a “zero-tolerance” policy, bullying can be difficult to detect or prove, making it tough for management to intervene. Other businesses may not have any anti-bullying measures in place. Taking action to avoid workplace bullying can benefit both businesses and their employees’ health. If you’ve been, know that you can take action to stop it without having to approach the bully. Always remember to put your health first.


What constitutes a hostile work environment?

In California, a hostile work environment is defined as inappropriate behavior in the workplace that is either severe or pervasive enough to create an abusive work atmosphere for one or more employees. This form of workplace harassment is prohibited under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Can I sue my employer for stress and anxiety?

You can file an employment lawsuit if you experience stress and anxiety that is higher than the regular amount for your job. For example, the minor stress of answering emails in a timely and comprehensive manner is normal and expected

Can you sue for emotional abuse in the workplace?

In California, if you have been a target of employer discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, or a hostile work environment, and if you take legal action against that employer, you may also sue the employer for your related emotional distress.

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