Workplace bullying has become the focal point of a number of news articles in recent months.  Bullying on the play ground has been happening for many years.

I remember my first bully in school. He was the same age as my brother and would pull my hat over my face and shove me head first into the snow bank. It was not until my “hero”, (my brother) came to save me, did the behavior stop.

Now, the bully in the workplace is not shoving people into snow banks or throwing sand in one’s face because they have a crush on you.

The bully in the work place is a combination of the narcissist, the abusive employee, or destructive leader. The bully can and does encompass one or several of these traits.

What is Bullying?

Bullying is something that is extremely devastating to the victim. Just as the bully impacted our life as a child, they impact as an adult. Bond, Tuckey, and Dollard (2010) stated, “Workplace bullying is a serious and chronic workplace stressor that negatively impact individuals and organizations”(p.37).

Barrow (2010) defined bullying in the workplace as the repetitive, abusive behavior that devalues and harms people in the work environment. Bullying is not just limited to one individual. It can involve several people at a time. The bully may also recruit others resulting in mobs of bullies who target individuals.

Who are the Bullies?

Similar to abuse in the workplace, bullying occurs in all ranks of the organization. We find bullies on the front line and even in top leadership roles. Neuman (2009) pointed out that abuse in the work place may be perceived as similar to bullying.

However, there is a slight difference. Abuse in the work place is usually a single event.  Bullying is repetitive and happens repeatedly. Workplace bullying has become rampant in organizations and is a reflected in modern literature.

who are bullies





Greer and Schmelzle (2009) cited the 2007 US Workplace Bullying Survey which found that 37% of US workers were bullied in the workplace and surprisingly, 72% of the bullies identified were leaders. According to the Campaign against Workplace Bullying, one in five US employees reported being victims of repeated workforce bullying (Naimie  & Naimie, 2003).

What Does Bullying Look Like?

Bullying can take the form of blaming employees for errors, making unreasonable work demands, unfairly criticizing work ability, inconsistently applying rules, threatening employees with termination, insults, and discounting accomplishments (Naimie & Naimie, 2003).

Unfortunately, these behaviors are repetitive and can go on for years without being addressed. Many times the individual suffers in silence and does not share their experiences with others, afraid of the consequences.

In time, they will leave the work unit or the organization. However, the emotional impact will follow the victim for many years.

What Are the Effects of Bullying?

As I have discussed in a number of previous articles on this site (What is Workplace AbuseThe Narcissist Leader or EmployeeThe Impact of Negative Leaders on Team WorkDestructive, Difficult Employees: A Leader’s Worst Nightmare), destructive behaviors within an organization are costly both from the financial aspect to the organization and to the emotional strain on the employee.

An employee shared the following story of his manager who repeatedly told the employee he was worthless and didn’t have meaning. This young man questioned his abilities and started to question his purpose in life in general.

Related:  Shortcomings of “Quick Fix” Corporate Leadership


Source: oomgroup

As a result, he often made mistakes when he was around the manager because the manager intimidates him on a daily basis. He shared that he often left work angry, confused, and depressed.

He started thinking about how his life would be different if he could just leave the organization. However, he stated that he could not find a job because of the economy and was terrified of losing it all. This leader often threatens the employee with termination and he cannot live on unemployment.

The employee stated that he was in constant fear of this leader and that many times during his ride home he wondered what it would be like to speed down the highway, close his eyes, and end it all.

The hopelessness he felt was something devastating to hear. It was pointed out to him that while that seems like a solution, it is not. Instead, the bully will move on to someone else. I am happy to report this employee has found another job and went through counseling.

What Can You Do About Bullying?

What do you do if you have a bully in your workplace? The first step is to address the behavior. Organizations need to establish codes of behavior that will address negative behavior in the workplace.

As a leader, it is up to you to define expectations that address this type of behavior in the workplace.

When you see it or hear about it, address it quickly.  It is the responsibility of both Leadership and Human Resources to address these issues and not to ignore these behaviors. Establishing a healthy work environment is the key to the success of your organization as well as the success of your employees.

What if You Are Being Bullied?

During the last several months, I have discussed different types of toxic behaviors. Many readers stated they experienced one or several of these behaviors over the course of their career. It is important to recognize that you are not alone. If you are the victim of a bully or the target of toxic behaviors in the workplace, seek help.

The key to addressing these behaviors is not to give power back to the person who is toxic. They thrive on this energy. Instead, take your power back. Address the situation with Human Resources, leadership or seek help elsewhere in the organization.

If the organization is not addressing the situation then seek support outside the organization. Counseling, Employee Assistance Programs, or your Church may be able to help.

Talk to co-workers, you may be surprised to find out that have or are experiencing the same behaviors. Know that you are not alone and that there are avenues of support. The key is to take your power back.

How Do You Deal With Workplace Bullying?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Dr. Annette Roter
Annette is an experienced leadership and organization development professional. Her research focus is on toxic and destructive behaviors within organizations. Her email is [email protected].