Workplace Bullying: How To Deal With Bullying At Work

Unfortunately, bullying isn't something that we can simply equate to childhood when dealing with a bully pushing us down on the playground. Sadly, for some, this type of behavior tends to continue well into high school, college, and eventually, the workplace. Workplace bullying is harmful behavior targeted at specific individuals, whether that be coworkers, team members, or even supervisors and managers. It can be targeted at one individual or a larger group of people at work. 

At A Better Leader, we've had decades of experience helping organizations empower teams to become more productive with the skills, tools, and knowledge they need. We provide online leadership training that covers the most common areas where leaders tend to struggle, from navigating work-life balance to conflict resolution to overcoming the fear of requesting feedback from employees, and so much more. We'll cover workplace bullying, how to identify it, and what to do whether you are an employer or an employee who is struggling with finding ways to overcome bullying in your organization.

What is Workplace Bullying And How to Identify It

As stated before, bullying is a form of targeted, harmful behavior that is intended to harm and put down others. It can be challenging to identify bullying behavior, but if your leaders (and employees) are trained appropriately to look for the signs, it doesn't have to be! There are a few "warning signs" you can look for to identify bullying - it isn't always upfront and obvious. Some types of bullying are more subtle than others. The following are a few signs to be on the lookout for in terms of bullying at work.

  • If you, a coworker, or another employee notice being repetitively left out of things like meetings, group lunches, and even coffee and chat sessions
  • Walking into a room only to notice that everyone has suddenly gone quiet
  • Your thoughts/ideas being ignored on multiple occasions or not being listened to
  • Constant criticism (It's important to note that this in itself is not necessarily a form of bullying, as constructive criticism has its place in the workplace)
  • Other employees, supervisors, or managers taking credit for work that you are doing
  • Intimidation, aggression, threats, harmful language
  • Public embarrassment in front of other team members and coworkers
  • Lack of help/assistance completing tasks, especially when you've asked for it

Naturally, this is not an exhaustive list of both subtle and not-so-subtle signs of bullying at work. You may feel alone in the way a group treats you or coworkers, or you may have a bully boss that seems to pick on and poke fun at anyone they feel is "beneath" them.

Workplace Bullying - How To Deal With Bullying At Work

Classic Examples of Workplace Bullying

Healthline shared a few classic examples of workplace bullying that include:

  • targeted practical jokes
  • being purposely misled about work duties, like incorrect deadlines or unclear directions
  • continued denial of requests for time off without an appropriate or valid reason 
  • threats, humiliation, and other verbal abuse
  • excessive performance monitoring 
  • overly harsh or unjust criticism

Again, this list does not include all of the examples of bullying in the workplace that you may notice. Some examples may be much more apparent, while others may be much more subtle. Here's an article with more of a look at bullying at work looks like in action. It's essential to be aware that although a lot of workplace bullying is quite obvious, that's not always the case. If your leaders are aware of the signs to look for, they will be able to not only recognize bullying but be able to stop it in its tracks.

What To Do If You Are Bullied

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, over 60 million people working in the United States have dealt with bullying to some degree. Unfortunately, this means that this type of behavior is not entirely uncommon. Conversely, it also means you are not alone, and there are resources to help you overcome and end it. Firstly, know that there is nothing wrong with seeking advice and help from your supervisor, manager, or boss at work. If you're wondering how to deal with bullies at work, you cannot just sweep unkind and harmful language or actions under the rug. 

You must reach out for support from a supervisor or some form of management. If you happen to be the target of a bully boss, seek guidance from upper management or your Human Resources team on how best to navigate the situation. Ultimately, it is important to know that the way you are being treated is under no circumstances to be tolerated. Speak up, even if you aren't 100% sure that the actions or language someone is using towards you are considered "bullying." At the very least, you can ensure your leader(s) are aware of potential behavior in the future and know the warning signs to look for. Make sure there is documentation of your situation. If, after you've documented the behavior and made it known to leadership, the behavior still does not end up being properly addressed or doesn't stop, it may be time to look for a new job.

bullying at work

What To Do If You Notice Someone Else Being Bullied

You may wonder how you can deal with bullying at work. Sometimes it can be difficult to navigate this process. You don't want to cause more "issues" by bringing it up to a supervisor, and naturally, you also don't want to see someone being bullied. Understandably, this may make you feel like you're stuck between a rock and a hard place. It's also easy to assume someone else is already taking care of it - whether that be your boss or the team member who is the target of bullying.

The Healthy Workforce Institute perfectly expresses what actions to take when you see someone else being bullied. It's quite simple: stand up for that person. They write, "One person who stands up to the bully can inspire others to do the same. The world will not end if you stand up to a bully. In fact, others around you will see that an assertive response is possible." In addition to confronting the bully, make sure to document the incident(s) and provide support to the person that has been being mistreated. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it also sets a precedent should there be any occurrence in the future!

How To Stop Workplace Bullying

The fastest way to negatively impact employee engagement is to let behavior that is threatening, health-harming, verbally abusive, intimidating, or generally harms productivity - continue. But because workplace bullying does happen, your leaders need to be prepared. They'll learn all they need to know with Workplace Bullying from A Better Leader

Here's what your leaders will come away with when they complete the "Workplace Bullying" training:

  • What workplace bullying is, and what it looks like
  • How bullying can impact both employees and workplaces
  • 5 Tips everyone can use to stop bullying in its tracks
  • A 3-Step "Rehab Plan" your leaders can use to resolve bullying behavior
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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.