Workplace Bullying – Time to Grab This Problem by the Horns

By April 25, 2017 Workplace Violence

workplace violence, Workplace Bullying Workplace bullying is gradually becoming a significant problem in many work places. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), bullying is four times more common than either sexual harassment or racial discrimination on the job. An empirically-based PhD dissertation by Judith Lynn Fisher-Blando, from the University of Phoenix, found that: “…75% of participants reported witnessing mistreatment of coworkers sometime throughout their careers, 47% have been bullied during their career, and 27% admitted to being a target of a bully in the last 12 months.”[1]

What is Workplace Bullying?

There are multiple definitions of Workplace Bullying; a useful one talks about a “…phenomena of repeated workplace aggression by individuals to harm others with whom they work.”[2]

Nobody at the workplace is immune from the damage of workplace bullying. The literature identifies several types of workplace bullying, including “Downward Bullying” – by superior against subordinates; “Horizontal Bullying” – by employees against fellow employees, and even “Upward Bullying” – practiced by subordinates against their superiors.[3]

Here are several examples of workplace bullying[4]:

  • Shouting or yelling at, berating, ridiculing, or demeaning others;
  • Name calling and attacks on one’s character;
  • Mocking, punishing, or putting someone down in front of others;
  • Undermining or sabotaging the work performance of others;
  • Spreading false or sensitive information about another;
  • Deliberately excluding, isolating or marginalizing a person from normal workplace activities;
  • Intruding on a person’s space by tampering with their personal effects or work equipment;
  • Punishments or negative consequences designed primarily to shame, exclude, and/or draw negative attention from others;
  • Abusing high level position to belittle and denigrate subordinates

It is important to note that single or even sporadic incidents of misbehavior by employees against other employees in the workplace do not usually constitute workplace bullying.

It is equally important to note that, in the same way that rape is rarely about sex and mostly about power, control and dominance, so is workplace bullying – it is NOT an overt expression of workplace conflict, but an exercise of dominance and control.

Why Pay Attention to Workplace Bullying?

Despite the tendency by both employees and employers to avoid and ignore workplace bullying, the harmful consequences of this practice are way too significant to justify such dismissiveness.

Workplace bullying erodes many of the foundations necessary for the existence of a productive work environment. Productivity is essential to every business’s success. It is the reason you do things to avoid injuries to workers by carrying out things like racking inspections. So why would you allow emotional injuries to occur? It constitutes a direct emotional attack on an individual; a humiliating infringement on civil rights that fractures morale and trust, stifles initiative, and causes guilt and negative feelings. It contributes to depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, digestive disorders and disorientation and leads directly to dysfunction, absenteeism, marginal production and, ultimately, resignations. It affects the bottom line in significant and often ignored or unnoticed ways.

The Impact of Bullying on Your Company

The cost of workplace bullying on individuals and organizations, and their productivity and state of mind and body is significant:

  1. The victim of the bullying is most likely to experience stress, along with its attendant psychological and physical side-effects. Loss of self-confidence is another almost certain result of workplace bullying. These two effects usually lead to a reduction of productivity.
  2. Another victim of workplace bullying is the organization’s culture. Extended periods of bullying impact not only the victim, but also the morale and performance of those surrounding the victims and others impacted indirectly. An inevitable toxic political climate gradually develops, with at least two coalitions facing each other: those supporting and those opposing the bully or victim. Innocent “bystanders” may be forced to choose sides and experience the repercussions of the stance they take. Precious attention, time resources and emotional energy are dedicated to managing the attending conflicts rather than to focusing on promoting the company’s welfare.
  3. Almost always, pressure builds on the victim of workplace bullying, often leading to his/her resignation. The company may lose valuable employees, thereby incurring the additional cost of recruiting a replacement who will start work in a toxic, post-conflict environment.
  4. Having established itself as part of the company’s culture – and a successful one from the bully’s perspective – the pattern of workplace bullying is very likely to continue, expand and impact new and veteran employees, sometimes growing to epidemic proportions that can seriously undermine even a large organization.
  5. Despite the fact that most bullying victims choose a conflict avoidance strategy, including leaving their place of work, some will push back and may expose the organization to extended and expensive litigation. This could create a festering wound in the company’s culture, damaging relations, performance, and productivity.
  6. When workplace bullying results in a workplace violence incident, it often results in costly remediation and potentially significant damage to the company’s brand. The person that is injured due to this violence is well within their rights to contact someone like this Houston Personal Injury Lawyer for compensation.

Regulatory Environment

Despite robust lobbying by groups such as the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) and some activity within private and government outfits, formal legislation and regulation is scant. To date, only California, Utah, Tennessee and Minnesota have passed specific workplace bullying legislation. Utah and California are alone in mandating companies to provide anti-bullying training, with California mandating the requirement for companies employing more than 50 workers.

How Do We Deal With Workplace Bullying?

In the current climate, both employers and employees often choose to avoid dealing with workplace bullying. A research brief analyzing literature and practice describes the situation as follows: “…the majority of employees tried to defuse the discomfort create by the uncivil situations passively, by conflict avoidance or minimization. Most victims of uncivil behavior avoided directly confronting the instigator. And many employees used the coping strategy of minimization.”[5].

This is obviously an inadequate response – one that virtually guarantees the maintenance of the status quo, along with its severe costs for both employees and employers.

Here are a few constructive steps you can take to preempt, mitigate and handle workplace bullying climate and incidents:

Workplace Bullying Audit – Unless you know the scope and dimensions of the problem, there is little chance you’ll be able to deal with the problem itself, as opposed to dealing with a few symptoms by making bullies go “underground”. The audit uses a specialized surveying tool designed to get beyond people’s natural reluctance to discuss and disclose workplace bullying incidents. The end product of the audit process is a picture of the workplace bullying landscape of the organization, down to the bullies’ and victims’ names. If you find that there is a serious problem in your workplace then you may need HR management help from a company like workplace partners adelaide as they can help in situations like this.

Make a Plan – Once you have a grasp of the challenges, significant actors and the organizational culture associated with the situation, you can start developing a mitigation plan.

The plan should take into account several factors:

  • Both bullies and victims must be part of the process.
  • Bullies sometimes fail to respond to mitigation efforts and may need to be fired to salvage the organization’s culture.
  • A system of rewards and sanctions must be constructed that will replace the feedback bullies have received so far that fed their behavior.
  • All participants will have to meet clear performance standards and road marks.

Implement the Plan – Employees will be offered a new set of workplace bullying mitigation tools, called “Assertive Honoring”. This method will provide bullies and potential bullies with additional tools that may help them control their behavior, and will provide victims and their colleagues with individual and group methods to counter and handle bullying attempts.

Call a Professional – Professional assistance is often necessary to identify workplace bullying issues and find a way to mitigate them through industry best practices and guidelines.

Workplace bullying incidents and reporting are on the rise and will likely continue this way for the foreseeable future. Regardless of our views about workplace bullying, it is clear that it impacts both people and organizations negatively. There are ways to mitigate the impact of such situations that will benefit individuals and their place of work.

Workplace Violence Case Studies

This is a case study from Australia – sometimes, it’s convenient to observe things from a distance: Bullying Case Study

This case study is titled: “…a simple case of workplace bullying”. Though long, it’s worth reading through, since it demonstrates there’s nothing “simple” about workplace bullying: A Case Study – a simple case of workplace bullying


[2] Wim Vandekerckhove & Ronald Commers, Downward Workplace Mobbing: A Sign of the Times? Journal of Business Ethics (2003), Vol. 45, pp.41–50.

[3] Ibid

[4] These examples are taken from Colorado State University Workplace Bullying Policy:

[5] Source: Research Briefs, based on: Cortina, L.M., & Magley, V.J. (2009). Patterns and profiles of responses to incivility in the workplace. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology 14(3), 272-288.

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