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What is Bullying at Work? How to Survive a Hostile Work Environment

Updated on November 26, 2013
KoraleeP profile image

Koralee is an author who studies human behavior. She's passionate about self love, overcoming obstacles, and overcoming bullying.

Corporate Bullies and Hostile Work Environments  are Ugly!
Corporate Bullies and Hostile Work Environments are Ugly! | Source

What is Bullying and What Role Does it Play in a Hostile Work Environment

What is bullying? According to the Google Keyword Search tool, this term is globally search 5,000,000 times. Although this doesn't answer the question, I found it quite alarming that people don't know what it is. If you don't know what it is, you may not know know when your'e getting bullied.

What is it? It is one of the most disgusting things that one person can do to another. This of course isn't a technical term, only my opinion. However, we will soon talk about what it is, and how it can make the workplace an unbearable place to be.

Hostile Work Environment

Bullying in the workplace is particularly hard on someone when they have to deal with it. This is because we have to work to survive. Working to support yourself and your family is often hard enough. When you have to deal with hostility in the workplace, it makes life that much harder.

What is Bullying? The Definition

For most of us, bullying is a term and we know what it is, but it's not always easy to put into words.

What is Bullying?: Below we will look at the definition, along with the definitions of bully, bullying, bullied, and intimidate to get the full meaning.

The meanings have been paraphrased to make them easier to understand.

  • Bully - The Oxford Dictionary: Someone who uses influence or strength to intimidate or harm those who are weaker.
  • Bullying - The Free Online Dictionary: The act of making a weaker person do something while using intimidation tactics.
  • Bullied - The Oxford Dictionary: Use of superior influence or strength to intimidate someone, usually forcing them to do something.
  • Intimidate - The Merriam Dictionary: To make someone fearful or timid so you can make them do something, or stop them from doing something.

If we tie these all together, Bullying is the act of someone using physical or mental ways to make another person feel scared so they can control their actions.

Places Where you can be Bullied

You can be bullied anywhere by anyone. Road rage is an example of bullying by a stranger, or if someone aggressively cuts in front of you in a grocery store line-up.

The main types of bullying in a hostile work environment are emotional, verbal, and physical. In the table below, has examples of different ways people bully.

What is Bullying - Different Types

Making Threats
Constant Criticizing
Name calling
Racial remarks
Verbal Humiliation
Pulling Hair
Spreading rumors
Damaging property
Terrorizing/making them afraid
Changing rules
Telling someone they have no worth
Unpredictable Mood Swings
Saying someone is ineffecient
Excessive work load
Demeaning work
Making fun of someone in public
Threats of revealing private information
Exclusion from group events
As you can see, emotional bullying is the most common type used.

How Bullying Makes You Feel

If you think, someone is bullying you, you will know by how they make you feel. Bullying hurts, whether it's physical or not. Other emotions you will feel are:

If you're bullied, you will feel:

Not good enough
Someone increases your stress level
Not smart enough
Situations make you feel stressed out
Not good at your job
Physical pain
Want to cry
If someone makes you feel some, or all the above emotions, you are probably being bullied.

Bullying and the Hostile Work Environment

Now that we know about bullying, what is a hostile work environment, and how do they go together?

According to Wikipedia, the definition of a hostile work environment exists when: An employee experiences workplace harassment and fears going to work because of the offensive, intimidating, or oppressive atmosphere created by the harasser.

In other words: Someone dreads going to work because they are dealing with a bully in the workplace.

Hostile Work Environment - Different Types

How bullies Operate To Make A Hostile Work Environment:

Often management isn't as useful as they could be. This opens the door for a bullying supervisor to create a hostile atmosphere by using threats, and verbal or psychological abuse. Bullies have the security of knowing that people probably won't complain because they need their job, and if they did, management wouldn't solve the problem anyway.

Surviving a Hostile Work Environment: Inner Survival Tips

If you're a victim of a bully at your workplace, and/or work in a hostile work environment, and can't quit right now, try some of the following survival tips.

You can't change your environment, but you can change your attitude and how you look at things.

  • Never blame yourself. Try to be positive and don't let yourself feel helpless.
  • Only worry about things within your control. See what things you can do, to surivive or make your work enviornmnet easier to deal with, then do them.
  • Focus on your strengths
  • Look for something good, at least one thing. For example, the receptionist is great; the scenery outside the window is spectacular; your seat is extremely comfortable. Positive thinking always makes our view of the world better.
  • Be gracious and kind to others, don't let a workplace bully or hostile work environment change how you to treat people.

Change your mind set to help you cope with a work place bully
Change your mind set to help you cope with a work place bully

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

To survive a hostile work environment you have to take care of yourself first. Your physical and mental health is what's most important. The last thing you want to do is internalize the situation, and make yourself sick.

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff, and It's All Small Stuff, can help you keep things in perspective. By helping you see that some irritants in life just aren't important. It will give you techniques to stay calm in stressful situations, teach the importance of choosing your battles wisely, and advice on how to deal with challenges.

It won't stop the bully or make your workplace less hostile, but it will give you the inner strength you need right now. For more information about the book and to read reviews of other readers, click the Amazon link.

Dealing With a Bully in the Workplace: Outward Survival Tips

If you're dealing with a hostile work environment because of a bully, try these tips:

  • Guard your emotions. If you're easily upset or show your emotions, try to hide them. Bullies pick on people they can intimidate.
  • Don't share personal information they can use against you.
  • Use discretion, but stand up to them if you think it will work. When you stand up to a bully that sometimes makes them back off. However, don't be aggressive and don't do it if you think it may make the situation worse.
  • Get support from someone else at work. Let them know about the bullying so they can see it for themselves. Never try to deal with this situation all by yourself.
  • Talk to a supervisor, upper management, or human resources department.
  • Keep track of the incidents, but don't leave it at the office or password protect it if it's on your computer. You don't want the bully to find it.
  • Research your state and federal laws. Talk to a lawyer to see if there's something you can do legally about the situation.
  • Decide if it's worth it, like the book Don't Sweat the Small Stuff says, you have to choose your battles wisely. If the situation is taking its toll on your health, start looking for another job.

Choose Your Battles - Is it Worth it to Stay?

Will You Defeat Your Hostile Work Environment?  Or will it defeat you?
Will You Defeat Your Hostile Work Environment? Or will it defeat you? | Source

When and How to Complain About a Hostile Work Environment

If you are dealing with a hostile work environment and aren't sure when and how to complain to upper management, this video by employment lawyer, John Gallagher, provides some tips on what to do.

Taking Action

If you've taken action against a bullying co-worker, were your actions successful?

See results

What is Bullying and How to Survive a Hostile Work Environment

Bullying and Surviving A Hostile Work Environment

If you didn't know what bullying was, I hope that now you have a better understanding of:

  • The definition of bullying
  • Different types of bullying
  • How you will feel if you're being bullied.
  • What role bullying plays in a hostile work environment
  • Different types of hostile work environments
  • How to survive in a work environment full of hostility

Please feel free to share any stories on how you were bullied at work, or tips on how you have dealt with a bully and the hostile work environment, in the comment section below. We would love it if you would be so kind as to share them.


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    • KoraleeP profile image

      Koralee Phillips 9 months ago from Penticton British Columbia Canada

      Hi Mr_Sensitive. I'm so glad it helped, and hope you look forward to positive changes coming your way :D

    • profile image

      Mr_Sensitive 9 months ago

      Thank you so much for this article. You have no idea how much it has helped me cope. God bless you!

    • KoraleeP profile image

      Koralee Phillips 3 years ago from Penticton British Columbia Canada

      Wow, that's horrible. I am very sorry for you. I hope there is a way for you to quit, or find a way to work with her to stop the bullying.

    • profile image

      No 3 years ago

      I am working a a company where I am bullied I know because oft color. Age the bullier is doing it purpose to make me lose my job. She is going to the team leaders all the time and whispering about me that I am slower or leaving gaps in line. She told me not to help me and she even I am sure talk bad about me as they don't talk to me. She has even yelled out belittled and it a wrong seat got on the whole line knew. Yet if she built a wrong seat that's ok hold on I will make another one . This is a constant hostile work day because of her staining down you all day making you feel awful. She is wanting to go up the ladder and bullying me on the process and no one will put a stop. She knows what she is doing and she has no right to treat and intimidate an employee when I work every minute and they eat talk and walk around and pick on me when she is not boss. But runs to boss and is putting me down

    • profile image

      patti 3 years ago

      theirs a coworker at work that is not a boss but treated like one,with no pay,she never acknowledges me ,ignores me and I'm new ,she verbally is mean she just is so rude,yelling at me when I'm busy wth a customer,tells me you forgot to put this away.its just to the point of crying,I talked to my boss about it and she tells me well her husband left her,shes having trouble with the main bosses,excuses I'm sure she is.she also is not nice to the other employees either.and I'm not get trained on other stations ,she wants me not to learn.?like trying to make me not a happy person break my spirit,help me please

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I have experienced cyber bullying and must say I was not happy about it, but bullying and knowing how awful that person can be in person must be most troubling.

    • KoraleeP profile image

      Koralee Phillips 4 years ago from Penticton British Columbia Canada

      I hope that you start listening to your head, but I'm glad that you're finding was to deal with the bullying.

    • profile image

      Joanne M Olivieri 4 years ago

      Excellent article with some great tips. I and my coworkers are going through this right now with verbal abuse and sometimes threatening abuse with our visitors/customers who do not like our policies. It becomes very difficult at times to deal with these situations. However, of late, I have been changing my reactions to these bullies and it has been getting better. It's one of those things were my head tells me to leave but my heart says stay. I've always listened to my heart. Your article here is a big help

    • KoraleeP profile image

      Koralee Phillips 4 years ago from Penticton British Columbia Canada

      Thanks for sharing your experiences NateB11. You are right about not a lot of recourse, but if enough people set their minds to making a changes, I am hopeful that will change in the next couple of years.

    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 4 years ago from California, United States of America

      I definitely relate to this article. I have been harassed, overworked and underpaid at most of my jobs. Unfortunately, it rarely ended well. You are absolutely right, understanding how you feel is a good cue that you are being bullied. Unfortunately, too, there's not much recourse, especially here in the US. I like how you spelled it out and laid it out nicely what is bullying and a hostile work environment.

    • profile image

      Anom 4 years ago

      My co-workers and I are in this situation now. It goes away for a bit and then comes back 110%. Our rules change and new expectations are indicated in once sentence of an e-mail (if we are lucky) when the e-mail has nothing to do with policy/procedure. Everything we do opens us up to the possibility of an attack. It is very nerve racking. The company has a policy book that indicates the behavior they desire and what we are experiencing is not in line with their written policy. We are going to HR as a group and will be having a meeting with our boss. At this point we have gone through trying to be positive about small aspects and have been thoroughly beaten down. If we don't take a stand I think we will break with the mental and emotional stress. After all if this goes south we all have something to lose.. but if we don't do this the less tangible definitions of ourselves will be lost (accountability, truth, respect, hope). I have been there before with a job. I started thinking about stepping in front of a car just so I wouldn't have to go back the next day. Funny thing is... it's the same company... different department.

    • KoraleeP profile image

      Koralee Phillips 4 years ago from Penticton British Columbia Canada

      Thank you Lipnancy :). That director sounds like a full-fledged bully, who didn't even try to hide it. My hope is that bullying in the workplace will be brought to light, the more knowledge people can get on the subject, the better armed they will be to deal with it.

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 4 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      This is a very interesting article. I once worked a job where everyone was bullied by the director. He even went as far as to call himself God in staff meetings and tell us that he would see to it that we never worked for anyone again. I think that if I had understood bullying then, things would have been much different.

    • KoraleeP profile image

      Koralee Phillips 4 years ago from Penticton British Columbia Canada

      Thank you JoAnne. I"m sorry for all that you've been through. That is great advice to work harder and better than them. It's sad to think what many bullies go through that make them that way, but some of them are just mean spirited control freaks, and have been that way since childhood.

    • JoAnne Culley profile image

      Jo-Anne Culley 4 years ago

      wow this is great material. I have been bullied almost all of my life.. by my father and kids in school during my childhood, and in work places as an adult. The key way to get rid of a bully is to prove them work.. work better and harder than them and please keep in mind that people who bully are suffering internally... they have to control others to feel good about themselves, leaving me to think, why do they need to focus on others' pain in order to feel good, what goes on in their lives when they aren't bullying, etc..