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Workplace Bullying: Why It Hurts and Why It Works

Updated on September 10, 2016

Who Is Targeted

People who are targets for bullying in the workplace are those who you would least expect. They are competent, intelligent, and honest. These qualities are exactly what makes them a target for abuse because they pose a threat to coworkers who have self esteem issues. The target is usually a new employee, someone who does not yet have a rapport built with the rest of the staff.

Why They Are Targeted

When a newcomer shows promise that they may be smarter, faster, or better in some way at the same job, they become an immediate threat to those who haven't had to earn their position. In these scenarios, the newcomer does not do anything to warrant the abuse besides exist and do their job. This is enough to make them appear as competition to someone with confidence issues, thereby making them a target.

Who Is a Bully

Most of the time, bullies are employees who have worked in a facility for a long time, getting what they want based on seniority and favoritism, not necessarily based on their skills, knowledge or effort. Bullies are often lazy, so they don't want someone around who works harder than they do because they are afraid it will make them look bad. People who bully others are insecure and entitled, thinking they need to put others down in order to make themselves look better.

What Is Adult Bullying

Adult bullying is more subtle than child bullying. With child bullying, you are more likely to see name-calling, physical force, and blatant threats. When it comes to adult bullying, the abuse comes in forms such as exclusion from conversation, ignoring that person when they are present and/or speaking, spreading rumors, private discussion about that person, and false accusations about them. There can be eye rolling, making faces or gestures behind someone's back, or disregarding their answers to questions.

Why It Works

Workplace bullying is successful because the target comes into the situation unsuspecting that someone would see them as a threat. They aren't prepared to have to defend themselves because they are just there to do their job. Being new and with no history to bond them to their new coworkers, they are alone, making them easy to isolate. False accusations are easier to believe since no one knows them well enough to contradict or question what is being said.

Why Others Won't Intervene

It's not that coworkers and employers don't see the bullying and the damage it is causing to the staff morale and business overall. The reason that other coworkers don't intervene is because they are afraid of the bully, scared they will become the next target if they try to intervene in any way. If they don't go along with the mistreatment or at least stay silent about it, they might be next. No one wants to jeopardize their own job, even on behalf of others.

They may also have already been manipulated by the bully through shows of power in the workplace. A bully will often do what they want, whether or not it follows the rules, and pay no consequences. The abuser(s) may make up stories and tell lies about the target, making the target look untrustworthy or dishonest.

Health Effects On The Target

A whopping 71% of targets will seek medical attention for issues caused by workplace bullying. Targets often show physical and pyschological symptoms of the stress they are enduring. Not uncommon are anxiety, depression, gastrointestinal issues, frequent illness, and sleep disruption.

What Can Be Done

The sad fact is that bullies rarely face consequences for their actions. Often, since only 20% of employers will step up on the target's behalf, the best possible remedy for the situation is for the target to quit. If a target does not leave on their own, they have a 61% chance of losing their job.



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    • Eliot Darcy profile imageAUTHOR

      Eliot Darcy 

      2 years ago from Madison, WI USA

      Definitely! Good point. I said new employee because most people figure out that they need to move on to a new job and don't usually stay at a job they are being bullied at for too long.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      I agree with everything except the "new employee" part. In my experience and those targets that I have met, the common denominator is not length of time at organization age, gender, nor race; rather, it is that the one targeted is ethical and highly skilled.


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