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Workplace Bully

Updated on June 16, 2009
Workplace Bullying  Source: Flickr
Workplace Bullying Source: Flickr
A workplace bully can be a colleague or a boss  Source: Flickr
A workplace bully can be a colleague or a boss Source: Flickr

Workplace Bullying: What it Is and The Effects

I wrote this article awhile back as part of a course in Freelance writing that I am taking. I feel that the topic is very relevant in today's job market. We have heard the headlines about major corporations cutting their workforce. As a result many employees feel threatened and coerced to comply with unreasonable expectations of their workplace, such as working longer hours and taking work home, in order to keep their job.

Wikipedia defines workplace bullying as the tendency of individuals or groups to use persistent aggression or unreasonable behaviours against a co-worker. Canada Safety Council, September 2000 states that over 72 percent of bullies are bosses, some are co-workers and a minority of employees bully higher-ups. Recently school bullying, has been in the news headlines, as students use cyberspace to expand the scope of their bullying. Workplace bullying, much like school bullying, has negative impact on everyone. A hostile work environment is often manifested in very subtle and more sophisticated ways than schoolyard bullying. If nothing is done about bullying, the consequences can be dire; not only lowering employees’ morale and diminishing productivity, but the demoralization of a workforce.

The subtle nuances of a hostile work environment can be pervasive as bullying is often not very obvious, hence, not reported or addressed. The bullied often second guesses him/her because of lack of tangible evidence of such aggression. For instance, how does one confirm that an almost completed project was re-assigned because the boss thinks someone else should get the recognition for its success?

What is Bullying

Bullying can be as subtle as talking down to a person in a condescending manner, demonstrating to others that the person is not competent or as overt as firing the person in a disrespectful manner. The following are some of the ways that workplace bullying can be identified:

  • Spreading rumours about a person to tarnish their reputation and credibility.
  • Excluding a person from social events or influencing others to not associate with a person.
  • Making disparaging remarks about a person or about their ethnicity. For instance, Martha, a woman of colour, working in the Community Healthcare field, said that several times at staff meetings, a facilitator would make comments about employees based on some stereotypes of their ethnic background. This made her feel uncomfortable and under personal attack, especially when she was the only minority at the meeting.
  • Overlooking a person and getting second hand information from others about projects/tasks that the person is working on.
  • Re-delegating tasks away from a person without explanation. This undermines confidence as the person who was originally assigned the task can only assumed that they were not doing a satisfactory job.
  • Not providing adequate notice of deadlines, therefore setting up the person to fail.
  • Not acknowledging or responding to time sensitive communications from the person, hence causing delay in achieving deadlines.
  • Not providing adequate feedback to a person’s performance and therefore not giving the person an opportunity to improve prior to a performance appraisal.
  • Disparity in remuneration, where colleagues with similar or less qualifications/experience and similar responsibilities are paid at higher salary rates.
  • No personal recognition and positive feedback for taking initiative and contributing to the achievement of department/organizational goals.
  • Firing a person in a disrespectful manner, to send a strong message to others who are aligned to them.

Impact of Bullying

A hostile work environment can negatively impact the individual, a team as well as an organization. According to The Canada Safety Council, September 2000, a 1999 International Labour Organization (ILO) report on workplace violence emphasized that physical and emotional violence is one of the most serious problems facing the workplace in the new millennium. The Council also states that “bullied employees waste between 10 and 52 per cent of their time at work.” Research have shown that the bullied spend time defending themselves and networking for support, thinking about the situation, being demotivated and stressed, not to mention taking sick leave due to stress-related illnesses.

Other negative impacts of workplace bullying on the individual and the organization are:

  • Erosion of self confidence and credibility of the person being bullied. This can impair decision making, thus negatively impacting the outcome of decisions that may hurt the bottom line or goals of an organization.
  • Feeling unrecognized, even when he/she goes above and beyond expectations to meet organization goals. This negatively impacts the individual as well as the overall morale of a department or even the entire organization.
  • Fear and competition among the team. If the bullying is done by a boss, employees who are observing the hostility may take side with the perpetrator as they become fearful of being bullied themselves. This creates competition among the team as each person wants to be in the favour of the boss. The result is further alienation of the person being targeted.
  • The person being bullied is being silenced. This silence is not only their inability to speak up in their own defence, but they may become uncomfortable to speak up to share their ideas or to clarify the issues. This discomfort is founded in the notion that they do not want to be rejected or publicly humiliated. An example of such scenario was illustrated by Martha, who was a manager of a community healthcare agency. She said that she was silenced by the hostility she endured in the workplace over a period of three years. She felt that her comments/questions were usually ignored or brushed aside by her boss. She admits that being an immigrant, her choice of words and phrases are sometimes ambiguous and are sometimes misunderstood. She said that occasionally when she asked for further explanation on an issue, she is often interrupted and made to feel that she was making trouble. She informed me that after one such incident, she was told by her boss that she was being confrontational and not a team player. Martha admits that all she was doing was seeking further clarification on the issue being discussed.
  • High job turnover – the bullied will eventually quit employment as the hostility becomes unbearable in the work environment.

A bully is equally likely to be a man or a woman. Regardless of how or who is doing the bullying, it is evident that the effects are negative to the individual as well as the organization. What can leaders of organizations do to combat bullying in the workplace? They can start by acknowledging that workplace bullying could be a potential occupational hazard and that it requires immediate action. They can create written policies and procedures to handle bullying. Finally, they should educate all employees of their rights and responsibilities to foster a safe workplace for all.


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    • DynamicS profile image

      Sandria Green-Stewart 7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Majorshadow, thnks for your visit. The words to the song are very relevant. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      Majorshadow 7 years ago

      Song Title: "STAND"

      Subject: Dealing with spiteful people

      Hear it at URL:

    • DynamicS profile image

      Sandria Green-Stewart 8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      cgull8m, thanks for your comment. You are right, many talented people are bullied out work and this is a lost to any company. While, I acknowledge that bullying is a difficult thing to control, Companies need to do more to discourage any behaviour that can be deemed as bullying.

      Thanks for dropping by...

    • cgull8m profile image

      cgull8m 8 years ago from North Carolina

      If the company and the managers don't care about bullying then they are the ones to lose, they will lose many talented workers.

    • DynamicS profile image

      Sandria Green-Stewart 8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      ajcor, thanks for your kind comments. I will certianly check out some of your hubs on the subject. I agree with everything you said. The economical and emotional cost of bullying is very high.

      I believe that it is up to leaders and employees to ensure that this hazard in the workplace is addressed. Too many people are impacted for it not to be put on the fore of decision makers.

      It is a heath & safety matter that if not addressed will result in not only loss of productivity but harm to individuals, especially in light of the economical downturn.

    • DynamicS profile image

      Sandria Green-Stewart 8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      GiftedGramdma, its very sad that your husband has to endure bullying in the workplace. His supervisor should do more than just defend him. His supervisor should talk to his colleagues about their behaviour and how counter-productive it is.

      It is terrible that one cannot feel safe and be recognized for doing a good job. I think that your husband has a lot to offer and that should be recognized, rather than frustrating and over-working him with the hope that he'll quit.

      I wish him all the best...

    • ajcor profile image

      ajcor 8 years ago from NSW. Australia

      Great well researched hub DynamicS - I too have written quite a few hubs on bullying, it's effects and have hopefully come up with a solution - but still it goes on and will do so until the powers- that-be realise that not only are they losing good people but that they are also losing money.  Because when you think about it, in the final analysis economic outcome and financial turn over is also affected by the lowering of morale, the resulting time wastage of both the bully and the victim,  the training and also the subsequent loss of trained people through this insidious, invidious sickness.

      Additionally the after-effect of people either leaving their place of work or indeed being forced out, must be that the workplace suffers, in fact has to be financially impacted in the long run because the resultant combination of knowledge, experience, insight, expensive training and work history walking out the door - & which can be directly attributed to bullying - is costly to both the individuals involved and to the workplace!  

      And this doesn't even take into account that some people may never work again and may need to rely on the tax payer for support via the provision of government services!

      So until said myopic government and workplaces realise how this affects their bottom line and their almighty dollar, nothing is going to happen to help the victims of this criminal behaviour in the workplace!

      But if particular "protection codes" and "ethics" are enshrined in the workplace and are basically only lip service what good are they? why bother? seems a little cynical to say this but these enactments must have been written for other reasons - such as for the "feel good" factor or for the companies/govt. depts. to become "quality assured" or maybe just to meet the latest legal requirement???

      thanks for a lend of your soap box DynamicS!    cheers

      ps have tagged and twittered your hub...thanks


    • GiftedGrandma profile image

      GiftedGrandma 8 years ago from USA

      My husband has tolorated it for three years going on four...his age prevents him from looking elsewhere. They have downsized just within the past two weeks so he just hangs in there..thankful for a job in this economy. Sadly, most of his comes from superiors. He has a great supervisor that stands up for him, otherwise he would have been let go. He does the work of several people with no recognition or increase in pay. We are looking forward to retirement(hopefully).

    • DynamicS profile image

      Sandria Green-Stewart 8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Cindyvine, I'm so sorry that you are leaving your current employment due to bullying. I hope that you have tried to resolve the situation before making that decision. You should report it to your supervisor or his/her supervisor. If you still do not receive favorable response, you should keep taking upward until someone takes you seriously.

      The problem is if you do nothing, it will only continue. Sometimes it is difficult to take that step but it is necessary for yourself and for others who will be affected in the future.

      I wish you all the best regardless of what decision you take. Take care...

    • DynamicS profile image

      Sandria Green-Stewart 8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      msorensson, thanks for your comments and your words of wisdom. I agree a leader does not participate or condone bullying. They are able to objectively look at the situation and apply the correct course of action. I only wish that we had more leaders in the workplace who like you suggest, able to apply 'ruthless compassion' to stem the acts of bullying whether intentional or otherwise.

      Thanks for stopping by...

    • profile image

      DynamicS 8 years ago

      frogdropping, thanks for your comment. Bullying is very rampant in the workplace. I've seen it and been the recipient of it. At the time I didn't even realize that I was been bullied, I just assumed that I was not being assertive and proactive. I took the blame for it for many years and then one day I had enough and spoke up for myself. Things was never the same after that. I was dubbed as confrontational and sensitive, but then the bully eventually left the company. Things got better and my confidence soared; much to the benefit of the company, as I made better decisions.

      Not everyone survived bullying as I did. It is very sad that some people are so devastated by bullying that they have to leave their job or commit sucide. I have seen someone much like the office bully that you described; she certainly knew how to kick someone when they were down. Very pathetic!

      The problem is that bullying is sometimes so entrenched in the culture of an organization, that nothing is been done about it. Some people just accept it as 'It's just the way he/she is; doesn't mean anything' That is BS and has to stop.

      Thanks for stopping by...

    • cindyvine profile image

      Cindy Vine 8 years ago from Cape Town

      I'm leaving my current place of employment because of workplace bullying, and the bullies doing much of what you described,

    • frogdropping profile image

      Andria 8 years ago

      Dynamic - well written! A very horrible practice that filters into so may walks of life.

      Generally - the individual doing the bullying is issue driven - and inflicts this flaw in their character onto those around them. I fail to understand why such people go home at night and sleep well in their beds.

      I've met a few in the workplace down the years and I've yet to be convinced that one was different to another - in as much as the type of person they were.

      Many years ago - in school - a girl I knew was horribly bullied. It affected her so badly that she never recovered from it. The affects to her self-esteem and self-worth were devastating. She committed suicide a few years ago.

      In my last place of work we had an office bully. She loved being thought of as top-dog and enjoyed her perceived 'power'. She was pernicious whenever she had the opportunity to be so and revelled in the affect she had on others. And she always justified it by convincing herself she was helping ...

    • msorensson profile image

      msorensson 8 years ago

      Well done. Points well explained and expounded. A leader would do well taking the bully aside and talking to that person in a space of compassion. One who wants to hurt others knowingly is himself/herself hurt or terrirified. This is the truth so the leader has to know this and go from there.

      In the space where it is not hostile the leader can identify the problem and address it well. This is the reason why Jack Welch is one of a kind. He knows that happier people are more productive.

      If the bully is not willing to modify his or her actions, then the leader has to cut it. Ruthless compassion is better than indifference at all times.

      By ruthless compassion I mean an action carried from a space of love and understanding rather than conventional definitions of kindness.

      Melinda M. Sorensson