No Excuse for Workplace Bullying

It may seem hard to believe, but it’s possible to be bullied at work and not even know it. This is especially true if you’ve always experienced a power differential in the workplace and never been given the opportunity to speak up against over-bearing behaviors that seem to be accepted or ignored.

How to Know if You’re Being Bullied at Work

Chances are you’ll know that something isn’t right if you’re being bullied at work, you just may not know what to call it. Here are some indicators that what you’re experiencing from a manager or co-worker is bullying behavior.

People who are bullied find that they are:[1]


  • Excluded from what’s happening and overruled, ignored, sidelined, marginalized, ostracized.
  • Denied information or knowledge necessary for undertaking work and achieving objectives.
  • Starved of resources and working in a management vacuum.
  • Either overloaded with work or have all their work taken away.
  • Given more responsibility and less authority.
  • Given “the silent treatment”: the bully refuses to communicate and avoids eye; often instructions are received only via email, memos, or a succession of yellow post-it notes.

Controlled and Subjugated

  • Given unrealistic goals and deadlines which are changed without notice or reason whenever they get close to achieving them.
  • Frequently or constantly subjected to unwarranted, destructive.
  • Encouraged to feel guilty and to believe they’re always at fault.
  • Frequently subject to nit-picking and trivial fault-finding.
  • Subject to excessive monitoring, supervision, micro-management, recording, snooping etc.
  • Threatened, taunted, teased, shouted at and humiliated, belittled, degraded, demeaned, ridiculed, and generally subject to disparaging remarks.
  • The target of offensive language, personal remarks, or inappropriate bad language.
  • Forced to work long hours, often without remuneration and under threat of dismissal.
  • Refused requests for leave, or unacceptable and unnecessary conditions are attached.

How Common is Workplace Bullying?

The campaign for the Healthy Workplace Bill defines workplace 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.
  • Offensve conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating or intimidating
  • Work interference (sabotage) which prevents work from getting done.

Sadly, their research shows that it is a problem affecting 37% of adult Americans. Here are just a few of indicators of what more than a third of adult Americans are facing in the workplace with respect to bullying.

Source: The Healthy Workplace Campaign Dr. Gary Namie, National Director

In fact, the following key findings, from the 2014 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey,[2] paint a disturbing picture when it comes to the reality of workplace bullying. What’s more disturbing are some of the attitudes identified surrounding that reality.

One of the main reasons for proposing legislation to control workplace bullying is the clear impact it has on the health of those the facing it. For example, workplace bullying has been linked to a variety of stress-related health complications, including; hypertension, auto-immune disorders, depression, anxiety and PTSD. It is not uncommon for workplace bullying to lead to performance issues on the job, not to mention increased turnover.

What to do if You’re Being Bullied

According to North Dakota State University professor and researcher Pam Lutgen-Sandvik,[3] who has been studying workplace bullying for nearly 15 years, when you believe you are being bullied at work, you need to:

  • Give it a name—define it as workplace bullying.
  • Remember that it’s not your fault. Bullies often make the victim feel crazy.
  • Get some social support, like a counselor, as bullying can degrade your mental health.
  • If you can, take some time off from work to regroup and figure out how to address the problem.

She doesn’t recommend “fighting back” as it can be risky, as bullies at work are often in a position of power. If you do decide to do something about it, she suggests speaking to someone who has authority over your bully, rather than confronting the bully directly, to avoid escalating matters.

What Can an Employer Do to Help?

Employers are responsible for providing a safe working environment. Unfortunately, bullying is one of those unhealthy workplace activities that often goes uncorrected, as the research results cited earlier reveal (72% of employers deny, discount, deny, encourage, rationalize or defend it). Enlightened employers, on the other hand, understand that allowing bullying to continue in the workplace will ultimately do damage to the culture and the organization as a whole, so they commit to[4]:

  • Provide information, education, and training for all employees and especially those employees in a supervisory position, on workplace harassment
  • Stop all incidents of reported harassment and correct behaviors
  • Initiate a policy and procedure pertaining to workplace harassment
  • Outline investigative procedures of workplace harassment
  • Stop any retaliation
  • Make the harassment laws clear and available to all employees

As an employer, whether you view bullying as a health and wellness issue, a performance management concern, or through an employee satisfaction and retention lens; there is no place (or excuse) for bullying in the workplace.


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[2] 2014 WBI Workplace Bullying Survey, conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute.

[3] Lutgen-Sandvik: Bullied at work? What to do

[4] Harrassment at Work is Against American Law.

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