How Strong Leaders Address Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying hurts employees, drains morale, and costs businesses money when they must replace employees who quit due to repeated mistreatment. However, team leaders, managers, and even executives can help spot and stop bullying in the workplace.

Workplace Bullying, Defined

Workplace bullying is the targeted, habitual mistreatment of one or more employees. While single acts of aggression, sabotage, humiliation, or intimidation may take place within an organization, bullying entails an ongoing pattern of abuse.

Workplace Bullying in Action

Workplace bullying may take on many forms. Common behaviors and situations to look out for include:
  • A victim regularly staying at work past quitting time or appearing to have much more work to do than other employees.
  • A victim regularly calling in sick even though they seem perfectly healthy when they are at work.
  • A victim appearing sad, depressed, anxious, or irritated on a consistent basis.
  • A victim being consistently criticized for the poor work performance of a team.
train my leaders CTA


Workplace bullies have a desire to control the victim's work life. This often means altering the information they receive and the equipment they have access to.

For example, a bullying supervisor may regularly fail to tell an employee about important meetings or policy changes. This makes the victim appear to always be late, lazy, defiant, or incompetent. This forced poor performance creates more ammunition for the bully to threaten to get the victim fired or further criticize or reprimand them.


When workplace bullies are supervisors, they may use the threat of documented reprimand, cutting hours, or even dismissal to try to force the victim into doing unreasonable amounts of work, or to take the blame for something that was the supervisor's fault.

When workplace bullies are colleagues, they often have been with the company longer and will try to use their popularity with supervisors and co-workers to intimidate the victim. For example, they may threaten to tell lies or spread embarrassing information about the victim so that they feel isolated or miss out on promotions.

Confronting Workplace Bullying

If you believe that you've identified a workplace bully, the first step will always be to confront that bully about their behavior. Try to do this privately, when the victim isn't around. Be open to listening in case the bully's behavior is simply a way to cope with the loss of control in other aspects of their life (i.e., going through a divorce, getting a frightening medical diagnosis, etc.).

Be specific about what behaviors are problematic. For example, "Don't be mean to John," is vague, so it is easy to disregard your directive. However, "John shouldn't be the only one staying late every night," or "I want you to CC me when you notify your team about meeting times," are examples of more specific statements about the issue.

After the verbal request, any further incidences of abuse of the victim should be documented. The bully should clearly understand that continued acts of bullying will result in termination. If they believe continued abuse will be tolerated, they may just try to hide it better as opposed to not doing it at all.

Supporting a Victim of Workplace Bullying

Let the victim of workplace bullying know that you support them and that they don't have to take that kind of abuse and disrespect from anyone. Check-in with them at least once a week for the first month to learn about any further problems that you may not have witnessed or heard about.

Getting them in touch with resources (training, literature, counseling, etc.) to help them cope with the bullying experience by processing their feelings, or learning to become more assertive, can be a huge benefit in helping them to feel empowered and safe in their working environment.

Workplace bullying can develop at any organization at any time. Fortunately, by using this information, you can help to eliminate it once you recognize it and make sure your staff is safe as well as productive and profitable.

Preventing Workplace Bullying

The best measure to safeguard your organization from bullying is to train your leaders on how to deal with bullying in the first place. Your leaders truly are your first line of defense when it comes to bullying. A Better Leader's "Workplace Bullying" training teachers leaders how to identify bullying, how to react, and the overall impact of bullying on an organization. Check out the preview video for this training lesson here!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is Director of IRI's Digital Workplace Solutions Group, and the founder of A Better Leader. Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.