Dealing with Bullying at Work

One of the most toxic additions to any workplace is the bully. If you work with (or for) a bully, or one of the people on the team you lead may be a bully it is important to handle the situation carefully yet assertively.

In this series of articles I want to share some tips for how to deal with workplace bullying successfully.

First let’s look at what is bullying or harassment?

A bully abuses any power they have over less powerful people. You will often feel oppressed, humiliated, weak, and belittled after talking to a bully. In addition, you will typically feel worse about yourself. At the same time you may feel obliged to laugh at the comments that are being made about you or to you, even thought they are hurtful or not true.

A bully may be someone who consistently dishes out venomous personal remarks, who takes delight in ruining your day with seemingly harmless yet cutting statements, who takes credit for your work, constantly threatens you with dismissal or demotion, or who is simply rude, aggressive, and pushy. The bully often leaves people feeling threatened and demeaned.

Bullying and harassment might be:

  • physical (being hit, bumped, tripped, pinched),
  • verbal (humiliation, name-calling, teasing, putdowns),
  • psychological (intimidation, sabotage, coercion, manipulation, threats, gestures, being watched or stalked),
  • social (embarrassment, smear campaigns, being ignored or having rumors spread about you)
  • or sexual (physical, verbal or nonverbal sexual conduct).

Bullying and harassment often happens out of sight of other authorities, leaders or managers and is typically repeated over an extended time.

However not everyone who displays these sorts of behaviors is a workplace bully. An isolated incident doesn’t equate to bullying.

Just because someone tells you they don’t like something you did or didn’t do, or you don’t like the way they communicate with you doesn’t make them a bully.

Even if someone yells at you in frustration it doesn’t necessarily mean they are a bully. It may just mean they lack the emotional maturity to express themselves more professionally or they tend to overreact to a stressful situation. Goodhearted people can make mistakes. While issues like these still need to be addressed, they aren’t as corrosive to your workplace culture as bullying or harassment can be.

A bully, on the other hand, intends to intimidate, dominate and disempower and they do it consistently and repeatedly.

The negative effects of bullying and harassment are well known and definitely serious.

Bullying frequently leads to significant effects on work performance, illness, absenteeism and low team morale. In extreme cases post traumatic stress disorder and even suicide have occured.

Bullying can’t be ignored or overlooked. If you are a manager, team leader or business owner, you have at least a moral (and in many places a legal) obligation to ensure your workplace is free from bullying or harassment.

In a few days time we’ll look at how you should tackle bullying when it is happening in your team or workplace…

Meanwhile have a look at some of these Stress and Productivity Resources:


  • Kerry

    July 14, 2010

    Hi Kerrie,

    I was interested to read your article and thought that I would provide another situation. Your comment “Bullying and harassment often happens out of sight of other authorities, leaders or managers” my experience is that quite often it is a manager or leading authority that is the bully. This was not mentioned in your article and I think that perhaps you could do another article on bullying and what a staff member can do when the bully is a person of authority.

    Anyway just providing feedback on what I see is a common workplace issue.

    PS: I love receiving your articles – they are always a good read!
    Thanking you, Kerry

  • Kerrie

    July 14, 2010

    Thanks for the comment Kerry. I love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

    I will add another article soon about what to do if YOU are bullied at work.

    Watch out for it after the next one which is about how you should tackle bullying when it is happening in your team or workplace.

    Kind regards, Kerrie

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  • boik

    August 25, 2010

    Thank’s Kerrie, it’s usefull for me fo hanldle bullying people at my office, the question is how to manage or tackle the people like that, do we give them punisment or just openly tell them you are bullyer people and fired them

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