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August 22, 2022 Category: Human Resources (9 minutes read)

A Different Approach to Workplace Bullying

A Different Approach to Workplace Bullying

Bullying has been a concern linked to mental problems, stress, and suicides throughout the world. Primarily regarded as a childhood problem, bullying has been troubling adults as well.

Workplace bullying refers to repeated actions aimed at employees meant to insult them. Actions like this pose a risk to employees’ health and safety.

There is a difference between bullying and aggression. Aggression usually involves a single act. In contrast, bullying behavior involves repeated actions against a target.

It is a current pattern of behavior.

Bullying at work involves an abuse of power. Intimidating, humiliating, and degrading an employee are behaviors of bullying. It creates a feeling of helplessness in the bullying target.

What is workplace bullying?

Bullying is usually seen as acts or verbal comments that could psychologically or 'mentally' hurt or isolate a person in the workplace. Sometimes, bullying can involve negative physical contact as well. Bullying usually involves repeated incidents or a pattern of behavior that is intended to intimidate, offend, degrade or humiliate a particular person or group of people. It has also been described as the assertion of power through aggression.

Types of bullying

Bullying behaviors might be:

  • 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 behavior is repeated over time. This sets it apart from harassment, which is often limited to a single instance. Persistent harassment can become bullying, but since harassment refers to actions toward a protected group of people, it’s illegal, unlike bullying.

Early warning signs of bullying can vary:

  • Co-workers might become quiet or leave the room when you walk in, or they might simply ignore you.
  • You might be left out of office cultures, such as chitchat, parties, or team lunches.
  • Your supervisor or manager might check on you often or ask you to meet multiple times a week without a clear reason.
  • You may be asked to do new tasks or tasks outside your typical duties without training or help, even when you request it.
  • It may seem like your work is frequently monitored, to the point where you begin to doubt yourself and have difficulty with your regular tasks.
  • You might be asked to do difficult or seemingly pointless tasks and be ridiculed or criticized when you can’t get them done.
  • You may notice a pattern of your documents, files, other work-related items, or personal belongings going missing.

These incidents may seem random at first. If they continue, you may worry something you did cause them and fear you’ll be fired or demoted. Thinking about work, even on your time off, may cause anxiety and dread.

Characteristics and Traits of a Workplace Bully

One may not be a workplace bully by just displaying bullying behaviors.

A workplace bully has selfish motives and a complete lack of respect for others. He does not care for others, never considers them equal, and uses all means necessary to impose his ways.

Some bosses may have high expectations from the employees to perform better. Such bosses may not necessarily be bullies. Employees generally do bullying to their peers.

Bullies display common behavioral traits such as anger and anxiety.

They are more likely to have a history of experiencing bullying in the past.

Bullies are also more likely to have experienced traumatic events in their lives. They are insecure about family relationships and friendships.

Also, they might suffer from low self-esteem. As a result, they pick on others.

An Australian study showed that bullies tend to come from dysfunctional families.

Workplace bullying is more likely to occur in stressful work conditions.

High workload, low job autonomy, and role uncertainty are signs of a workplace where bullying occurs.

Characteristics and Traits of a Target of Bullying in the Workplace

Research has found that employees bullied in the workplace also tend to be victims of anger and anxiety. They are usually more irritable than employees who are not bullied.

Furthermore, results show victims are more intelligent than bullies. Such employees may outperform others and complete tasks faster in the workplace. As coworkers might not want this, they might force and bully such employees into lowering the bar.

Also, older employees may bully recruits.

What are the Effects of Workplace Bullying?

Bullying associates itself with various mental and physical disorders. Bullying in the workplace affects both employees and employers alike.

In a workplace where bullying occurs, staff turnover and absenteeism are high. Productivity and morale are low among employees. Besides physical problems, employees also suffer from stress and anxiety.

Furthermore, the creativity of the employees gets suppressed due to low self-esteem. This affects their ability to cope with difficult situations.

The health problems caused by bullying cause feelings of helplessness among employees.

Bullying in the workplace may cause employees to experience-

  • Headaches
  • Body aches and chronic neck pain
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Financial problems due to absenteeism
  • Phobias
  • Digestive problems
  • Sleep Deprivation
  • Lack of confidence and self-esteem
  • Suicidal Tendencies

Bullying affects employers in the following-

  • Low commitment to work
  • Lack of job satisfaction among employees
  • A high rate of absenteeism in the workplace
  • Increased employee turnover
  • Poor work environment
  • Making replacements for bullied staff that leave
  • Incurred costs of investigations and legal actions

Prevalence of Bullying in Different Parts of the World

Statistics show that prevalence estimates of bullying vary greatly from country to country.

For example, Sweden was the first country to research workplace bullying. It was the first country to pass an anti-workplace-bullying law in 1993. On the other hand, North America hasn't passed any legislation addressing workplace bullying. Also, in Canada, only 4 out of 10 provinces have passed such legislation.

One reason for this variation may be due to the presence or absence of legislation. While some countries have passed legislation addressing workplace bullying, many have yet to do so.

In a country where there is no legislation on workplace bullying, there may be bills that have been considered.

Moreover, this variation may also happen because countries may view bullying behaviors differently. One may not view traditional bullying behaviors as "bullying" while the other may do.

Ways to Prevent Workplace Bullying

The primary ways employers and employees can prevent workplace bullying are -

  • Firstly, employers must recognize bullying as a real issue. Then they must intervene and implement training programs.
  • Secondly, employees must recognize that they are being bullied. They must know that they are not the source of the problem and that bullying is about control. They must also realize that it has nothing to do with their performance.
  • Employees must start recording details of bullying incidents such as phone calls and messages. They should also keep a diary to keep track of the date and time of the incidents.
  • After this, a bullied individual should report the bullying behavior to an appropriate person. Being prepared beforehand, they must expect the bully to deny their accusations. It is also imperative that they have a witness at times when they are bullied.


Is bullying a workplace issue?

Yes, bullying is a workplace issue. In Canada, occupational health and safety laws include the concept of due diligence. Due diligence means that employers shall take all reasonable precautions, under particular circumstances, to prevent injuries or incidents in the workplace. Every person should be able to work in a safe and healthy workplace. The legislation in your jurisdiction will describe the roles and responsibilities of workplace parties concerning workplace harassment and violence, including developing and implementing policies and programs. Definitions of harassment and violence often formally include bullying, but can be implied if not.

Please refer to the following OSH Answers documents for more information:

  • Bullying in the Workplace
  • Internet Harassment or Cyberbullying
  • Violence and Harassment in the Workplace
  • Violence and Harassment in the Workplace – Family (Domestic) Violence
  • Violence and Harassment in the Workplace – Legislation
  • Violence and Harassment in the Workplace – Dealing with Negative Interactions
  • Violence and Harassment in the Workplace – Parking Lot Safety
  • Violence and Harassment in the Workplace – Warning Signs

Violence and Harassment in the Workplace – Working Late

What might not be considered bullying?

It is sometimes hard to know if bullying is happening in the workplace. Bullying can be very subtle and may be more obvious once a pattern of behavior is established.

Also, many studies acknowledge that there is a "fine line" between strong management and bullying. Comments that are objective and are intended to provide constructive feedback are not usually considered bullying, but rather are intended to assist the employee with their work.

As described by WorkSafeBC, bullying and harassing behavior do not include:

  • Expressing differences of opinion.
  • Offering constructive feedback, guidance, or advice about work-related behavior.
  • Reasonable action was taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the place of employment (e.g., managing a worker's performance, taking reasonable disciplinary actions, assigning work).

Prince Edward Island also adds that when done reasonably and fairly, the following actions are generally not considered workplace bullying or harassment:

  • with good reason, changing work assignments and job duties;
  • scheduling and workloads;
  • inspecting the workplace;
  • implementing health and safety measures;
  • delivering work instructions;
  • assessing and evaluating work performance;
  • disciplinary actions; and/or
  • any other reasonable and lawful exercise of a management function.

How can bullying affect an individual?

People who are the targets of bullying may experience a range of effects. These reactions include:

  • Shock.
  • Anger.
  • Feelings of frustration and/or helplessness.
  • Increased sense of vulnerability.
  • Loss of confidence.
  • Physical symptoms such as:
    1. Inability to sleep.
    2. Loss of appetite.
  • Psychosomatic symptoms such as:
    1. Stomach pains.
    2. Headaches.
    3. Panic or anxiety, especially about going to work.
    4. Family tension and stress.
    5. Inability to concentrate.
    6. Low morale and productivity.               

Undoubtedly, it is high time that employers around the world view workplace bullying as the same as rape and sexual harassment.

Bullying in the workplace may lead to higher employee turnover and increased absenteeism. It causes a loss of productivity and also creates an inferior work environment. Furthermore, workplace stress increases, and employee morale decreases.

It affects your employees' physical health as well as their mental health. Moreover, bullying in the workplace tarnishes the reputation of the company. This will also deter people from joining the company.

Preventing incidents of bullying in the workplace will have many benefits for employers. In a healthy work environment, there are productive and motivated employees.

Bullying in the workplace can have legal implications for a company. It can reduce potential customer confidence and tarnish a company’s reputation.

The bottom line is that workplace bullying has serious effects on a company and also its employees. Lastly, employers must try and end bullying in the workplace.