Workplace Bully

Workplace Bully – Cause of Major Concern for Organizations

Do you dread going to work? Are you a victim of bullying?

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute 48.6 million Americans every year are bullied. Since bullying is often psychological in nature, it is not always visible to onlookers.

As per – Lynne Curry, author of Beating the Workplace Bully: A Tactical Guide to Taking Charge. “Workplace bullying is psychological violence.”

Gary Namie, a social psychologist and the co-founder and director of WBI says – “It comes just like sexual harassment – uninvited, undeserved, unwarranted.”

What are the effects of workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying has a negative impact on the physical & mental health of employees. It results in anxiety, stress, depression, gastrointestinal issues, hypertension, and insomnia. It also damages productivity and performance.

What are Traits of Workplace Bully?

As per an Australian study, bullies come from dysfunctional families. Bullies are extremely selfish and lack respect for others. They are jealous, suffer from low self-esteem, and hence they pick on others. They are usually victims of anger and anxiety.

What kind of Employees are Targeted by Bullies?

Bullies Target Those Who Threaten Them

Research contradicts the fact that bullies target the weak and timid in the workplace. On the contrary, bullies target those who threaten them. They target people, who are honest, independent, ethical, highly skilled, well-liked, and pro-social. Many times, these victims are introverts or are younger or older in age. They are generally good people – the reason they attract envy from bullies.

As per 2014 research from the Workplace Bullying Institute, it is believed that targets of bullying are more likely to be compassionate, cooperative, and charming. Bullies target –

  • High Performers
    Bullies go after high performers. They use all the methods to sabotage competent employees. They try their level best to spread rumors and take credit for their target’s work. Bullies are insecure people. They feel socially inadequate. When competent employees enter the workplace, they attack them to feel powerful.
  • Skilled Employees
    You may be bullied at work if you attract a lot of positive attention for your work. Maybe you are intelligent, determined, and go the extra mile to deliver the work. The bullies feel scared that their work will get overshadowed by their target’s work, so they either try to steal the credit or undermine the target’s work.
  • Introverts
    In many cases, victims are introverts who focus on their work and do not get caught up in office politics. Because of their thoughtful nature, they do not report their misconduct, which gives a green light to bully to continue with the misbehavior and the bullying might even get worse with time.
  • Well-Liked People
    It is a myth that loners or people who have no friends or social circle are bullied. On the contrary, people who are famous or well-liked are bullied because bullies think they are a threat to their popularity and social status at the workplace. Being well-liked could be the reason why people get attacked by the bully.
  • Good Natured
    According to Psychology Today, victims of bullying at work are typically nice. If you are caring, social, and collaborative, this could be the reason that you are bullied. Bullies dislike these characteristics, as they always want to be in control. A bully sees niceness as weakness and nice people as easy prey.
  • Non-Confrontational
    Employees who are submissive are more likely to be bullied than those employees who are assertive.
  • Having Integrity
    Bullies target honest, ethical, and pro-social people. They target employees who are altruistic by nature and are fair and honorable. These targets are committed to their jobs and work not only for the paychecks.
  • Those Who are Different – Motivated by Prejudice
    Sometimes employees are targeted due to their gender, age, race, sexual orientation, or religion. People having a disability or a medical condition are also bullied.
  • Internally Motivated
    Bullies target employees who are internally motivated. These people are in sharp contrast to bullies, whose fragile ego relies on constant validation for work done well. The bullies are mainly interested in public praise rather than personal growth.

Types of Workplace Bully

  • Mean Prankster: These bullies play intentional jokes to humiliate the target.
  • Jerk: Jerks are mean by nature. They try to create a toxic work environment.
  • Saboteur: They consider their peers as competitors whom they should squash. They try their best to stop the targets from succeeding at their job.
  • Gossiper: The gossiper will speak against the targets behind their back and will try to tarnish their reputation.
  • the Gatekeeper: Gatekeepers withhold resources that the target would need to succeed.

Signs of Workplace Bullying

  • Isolation – They will keep the target out of both work-related and social events & conversations. They will not include them in chit-chats, parties, or team lunches. They will ensure that targets are left behind and are not part of any social events at the workplace.
  • Anger – Displaying anger towards the target, could be verbal or non-verbal.
  • Intrusion – Invading the target’s work or personal area. They try to intervene in the target’s work and their personal life.
  • Minimization – Dismissing the target’s suggestions or ideas.
  • Threatening – They will try to threaten the target. They will indulge in fear-inducing behavior.
  • Criticism – Belittling or embarrassing the target.
  • Gossip – Spreading rumors or discussing the targets behind their back.
  • Campaigning – Launching a campaign to oust the target out of the organization.
  • Revenge – Acting vindictive towards the target.
  • Blocking Advancement or Growth – Unfairly impeding the target’s growth and progression in the organization.
  • Punishment – Punishing the target emotionally through isolation.
  • Coercion – Forcing targets to do things against their will.

How Bullying Affects Employers & Organizations

  1. Bullying results in a lack of job satisfaction among employees.
  2. There’s a low commitment to work.
  3. Poor work environment.
  4. High rate of absenteeism in the workplace.
  5. Increased staff turnover.
  6. Incurring costs of investigation & legal actions for bullying.
  7. Incurring hiring costs to find replacements for the high-performing employees who leave the organization due to bullying.

The Role of HR

Companies should create strict anti-bullying policies to protect employees from bullying. Monitor the behavior of employees, and create a mechanism to report bullying issues at the workplace without any fear or retaliation. Take each complaint seriously and do a thorough investigation promptly and confidentially.

Employers should aggressively enforce the standard of professionalism through training. Bullying if left unaddressed can have tangible and intangible costs to the employer (e.g., financial, interpersonal, productivity), as bullies not only damage targets but also collapse organizations.

Without the work environment giving the green light, providing the license to unbridled mistreatment, bullying wouldn’t happen – Gary Namie


Bullying is harmful behavior that should not be ignored. It is the responsibility of employers to provide a safe working environment for employees. They should nurture a zero-tolerance work culture in relation to workplace bullying.

The bullying not only just hurts the victims but also the company through lost productivity, increased absenteeism, poor morale, lack of trust, poor work environment, and time & money spent in documenting, investigating, and hiring new resources when the brightest resources leave companies due to bullying.

Bullying has been estimated to cost Australian organizations between $6 billion and $36 billion a year. The best way to stamp out bullying is to address it at the earliest. Organizations should create a positive, respectful work culture where each employee is respected and bullying is not tolerated.

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