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Bullying In The Workplace: Effects and Solutions

Updated on March 23, 2012
Bullying in the Workplace
Bullying in the Workplace

The workplace should be a place where there is an atmosphere set by employers and superiors that promotes team and the well-being of the employees resulting in productive efficiency and high morale. Yet, in reality, this is not the atmosphere of most work settings. Bullying in the workplace is a common problem that has tremendous negative effects on employees, negative implications for companies and as such, should be addressed and stopped. The topic of bullying in the market place has been going on for centuries, but it does not need to continue in work settings where the company desires to address the problem and when employees want to have an option to protect themselves from bullying and all of its negative effects.

What is bullying?

The concept of “bullying in the workplace” is one which can be difficult to clearly define. But at its very core, bullying can be viewed as repeated actions and practices that are directed to one or more workers, are unwanted by the victim, are done deliberately or unconsciously, but clearly cause humiliation offence and distress. Most of the time bullying is done consciously but not necessarily with a purpose, and it needs to be distinguished from someone just having a bad day or week.

The Different Forms of Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying in the workplace can also take many different forms. They may include being falsely accused by superiors of errors not actually made, being set up to fail, being micro-managed, constant criticism, withholding information, being excluded or ignored, blocking requests for leave or promotion, spreading malicious gossip, mocking someone during a meeting, and encouraging others to make complaints.

These actions of superiors bullying in the workplace may appear subtle to co-workers, but they are very real to the victim, and if they are not addressed, the bullying may gradually progress to a dangerous level with major implications for the victim. Without a mechanism for inferiors to address the issue, superiors can often feel like they are unaccountable for their actions. Most people who are bullied never say anything out of fear of further mistreatment and even or losing their job. There have been studies that report that: “an estimated one in five U.S. workers are estimated to experience bullying by those they work with during their careers.” The issue of bullying in the workplace is no small matter, for this is a significant number of individuals being targeted and affected by this.

Effects of Bullying

Bullying has significant effects on individuals and their families. Bullied employees report more job stress, less job commitment and higher levels of anger and anxiety. Workers can be overwhelmed with a sense of shame and guilt for feeling victimized and totally inadequate and confused to fight back and protect themselves. Targets of bullying at work often anticipate the workday with dread and a sense of impending doom. They can experience an ongoing, anxious state of high alert in anticipation of the next attack. In this type of environment, workers can feel isolated from other, demoralized and unable to escape or prevent the ongoing tactics of bullying. Those who are the audience of the bullying of co-workers can begin to live in fear and what awaits them. These affects may last only a little while or individuals might struggle with them the rest of their life. Many will even quit their job because they can no longer face the daily humiliation.

The costs associated with the negative effects of bullying in the workplace are not just limited to the victims. There are tangible and intangible costs to the organization as well. With the accusations of bullying, companies have to incur the costs of such issues as investigations (both civil and internal), early retirement, and court hearings which can all affect the company’s public image.

One example of this is that bad publicity from legal cases damages an employer’s reputation and makes recruitment harder. If an organization has one or several legal cases or settlements which end up in the news, whether they win those cases or not, that organization could very well fall out of favor with the public which might not only affect their image, but their bottom line as well. No organization wants bad press and there is always the chance that because of bad press in the area of what an organization would allow in its workplace, that the organization’s good name might never be restored. When the negative connotations of the workplace become public knowledge, recruitment of future employees may become both difficult and costly.

No one wants to work for an organization where the atmosphere of the workplace is hostile and bullying is allowed to go unchecked. Furthermore, sponsors will no longer desire to partner up with a bad reputed company because they will not want their name to be damaged by association. Customers who once bought products or hired services from a company that tolerates bullying in the workplace may very well stop purchasing or using that company altogether because of its mistreatment of its own employees.

Allowing bullying in the workplace to occur and continue also affects the employees that work for the organization. Simply stated, bullying has a ripple effect on employees’ commitment and morale and therefore reduces productivity. Witnessing the bullying of fellow-employees, might prompt the other employees to not stick around such an environment and run the risk of becoming the next victim. They might choose to leave a company that does not substantially address the mistreatment and bullying of its own employees by their superiors. In such an atmosphere of fear and tension in the workplace, employees will be distracted from getting work done and doing it well.

Recommendation for a Solution

In order to stop this problem there should be a clear conflict and conduct policy instated and creation of self-managing teams. Even though these two recommendations seem to contradict each other, you need both to fully stop the issue of bullying.

● First Step: Company-wide Training

The first step would be companywide training to heighten awareness of what bullying is and why it isn’t acceptable. People do not know how serious bullying is and for the whole organization to be aware of what it is will help people know what to look for and if they too are victims of bullying. By defining bullying and explaining why it is not acceptable, the organization would be taking the initiative in setting the tone for a workplace atmosphere that cares for the well-being of its employees and does not tolerate bullying by any of its supervisors.

● Second Step: Conduct and Conflict Policy

The second step would be the development of a conduct and conflict policy. An example of such a policy would be to provide a happy and fulfilling environment in which staff are treated with respect and consideration, with bullying and harassment not tolerated in any shape or form. This conduct policy would help create a positive workplace and the goal of helping one another succeed and complete the job. Such an environment could be cultivated when the expectation of what will and will not be tolerated is made clear through a conduct policy. The need for continual education and training of superiors in real life working situations cannot be overstated.

Part of the conduct policy would also address issue of how to deal with bullying when it is personally experienced or witnessed. Superiors must take the issue seriously and employees must have a mechanism in place to report such behavior and defend themselves if bullying is going to be addressed in a significant way. Such a mechanism would be in the development of self-managing teams.

Self Managing Teams
Self Managing Teams

● Third Step: Self-managing Teams

Self-managing teams is a fairly new way of running companies but is proving to be very effective. The idea behind self-managing teams is that employees will effectively control their own work if supervisors give them the chance. Self- managing teams would allow the employees to be in teams where each has their own responsibilities but are all connected in helping their organization get things done in an efficient manner. This takes away opportunities for superiors to bully individuals since they are always going to be with their team. It also gives employees more power because the supervisor is really only there if there is a problem the team cannot solve themselves. This concept empowers individuals and gives them a sense of team accomplishing the same goals and a mechanism to protect themselves from most any form of abuse by superiors.

Benefits of self-managing teams

Among the benefits of self-managing teams’ concept is that they are more productive and much less expensive than traditional ways of managing work. Self-managing teams also benefit the company in allowing employees to produce more at a more effective rate with less involvement of supervisor. This lowers the costs of production and increases the profits for the organization.


Bullying in the workplace by superiors has become a common and serious problem in organizations with major negative implications to the victims and those around them. It must be dealt with and eliminated for the good of everyone involved. In order to do this, organizations, employers, superiors and employees should be aware of what is bullying and the serious affects it has on the victims of such mistreatment and the potential negative effects on the organization. The recommendation to solve this problem is to create a mechanism and protocol where mutual respect for everyone is the only accepted atmosphere, where everyone has the freedom to report bullying without the fear of any recourse. In such an atmosphere, there is a culture and clear understanding from the very top that bullying in the workplace by superiors will not be tolerated in any form. The second part to this recommendation would be for the creation of self-managing teams that would empower individual employees to be their own boss, creating a sense of both protection and accountability, and diminishing the possibility of superiors bullying in the workplace.


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