Michael Frash
Community Specialist
Community Specialist
Bullying in the workplace: What it is and how to identify it
Last updated: August 17, 2022
Michael Frash
Community Specialist
Community Specialist
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Bullying in the workplace: What it is and how to identify it
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The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) recently completed its annual U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey. According to their results, 30% of people have experienced abusive conduct in the workplace.

Bosses are responsible for 65% of bullying behavior, while co-workers are responsible for 21% of incidents.

Chances are, you or someone you know has or will experience bullying in the workplace.

To help you learn more about this topic, we've put together the following article. We'll explain what bullying in the workplace looks like and how you can identify it. And, if you're a victim of workplace harassment, we'll tell you what you can do.

What is bullying in the workplace?

Bullying is the ongoing mistreatment of others. While it may not always be intentional, the consequences can be devastating.

In the workplace, bullying can cause a victim to feel humiliated. It can also impact their ability to do their job. Workplace bullying may be targeted at one person or a group of people.

For example, a team member may feel pressured to do extra work while someone else gets the credit. Or, the employer may exclude employees from important meetings because of their gender.

Targets of bullying may suffer from a range of mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Bullying can also affect a person’s physical health.

Workplace bullying can include different types of harassment, including verbal abuse, physical abuse, and social exclusion.

It can even impact workplace productivity, create a hostile work environment, increase absenteeism, and affect staff retention rates.

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How to identify workplace bullying

Sometimes workplace bullying can be hard to spot. Let's look at different examples of workplace bullying and how you can identify these types of behaviors.

Verbal bullying

Verbal abuse isn't uncommon in the workplace. The language can be subtle or aggressive, and it's often persistent.

Types of verbal bullying include teasing, name-calling, and unfair criticism. The bully may lie frequently and excuse negative behaviors. They may even threaten their victim or make them feel ashamed.

Think about this example of a verbal bullying situation.

An employer continually calls an employee by derogatory nicknames, such as "fat" or "slow." They may think it's funny, but it makes the victim feel uncomfortable. As a result, the employee’s well-being and work performance suffer.

Regardless of the intent, verbal bullying is never okay.

Physical bullying

A healthy workplace should be free from physical violence. Unfortunately, some workers encounter physical abuse while trying to do their job.

Types of physical bullying include pushing, pinching, punching, slapping, kicking, and spitting.

Co-workers and leaders may be responsible for this behavior. It may even escalate over time.

Remember, members of the public can also be abusive. Nurses, police officers, and bartenders may encounter physical violence in the workplace.

It's up to the employer to have a no-tolerance policy to protect staff.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is another form of bullying that you may experience in the workplace. Any unwanted sexual advances fall under this category.

Those in the workplace are responsible for recognizing boundaries and avoiding any behaviors that could be offensive, humiliating, or intimidating.

Sexual harassment includes sexual assault and attempted sexual assault. But, there are other, more subtle behaviors that fall into this category.

For example, hugging, kissing, groping, staring, and touching are inappropriate workplace behaviors.

Language can also be sexual harassment. Lude or suggestive comments, sexually explicit emails, sexual gestures, and inappropriate jokes can be very harmful.

Victims of sexual harassment may receive threats, feel pressured to go on dates, or experience stalking. Managers may also offer workplace benefits in exchange for physical contact, which is flagrant and horrible sexual harassment.

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Intimidation

Intimidation is another bullying tactic in some workplaces. Intimidation includes threatening behavior, humiliation, aggressive body language, and manipulation.

For example, a co-worker may take credit for someone else's work or embarrass a colleague in front of the team.

A manager may give a worker tasks they aren't qualified for. They might also have different workplace standards depending on who they like.

Cyberbullying

Most companies rely on virtual communication. While online tools can boost productivity, they can also leave the door open for cyberbullying.

Emails that contain offensive jokes are a type of cyberbullying. For example, an email may have a remark about people of a certain race, sex, or religion.

If someone forwards a personal email without permission, this is another form of cyberbullying.

Other platforms to look out for include social media and video apps. For example, a colleague may send threatening or derogatory messages via Facebook.

Discrimination

Discrimination is another form of workplace bullying. People may face discrimination because of their race, sex, age, disability, religion, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, or marital status.

For example, if someone meets the requirements for an opportunity but they miss out because of their race, it’s textbook discrimination.

Some employees may experience social exclusion and neglect in the workplace due to certain characteristics.

Is workplace bullying illegal?

Whether or not bullying is illegal depends on the incident. Legal action may be an option in some circumstances. For example, sexual harassment and discrimination are crimes, but verbal bullying may not be.

There are state laws that protect people in the workplace.

If you're in the U.S. and want to know your rights, you can call the Stop Bullying Now Hotline at (800) 273-8255. The helpline is available 24 hours a day.

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What to do if you are a victim of workplace bullying

Most companies will have anti-bullying policies. If you're lucky, your employer will have zero tolerance for workplace harassment.

The steps you take will depend on the incident. For example, if your direct manager is making you feel uncomfortable, you can discuss your concerns with human resources.

Or, if it's a colleague, victims of bullying may be able to file a report with management. The bully may face disciplinary action.

If you're a victim of a crime such as sexual assault, you can contact your local law enforcement officials.

Are you experiencing bullying in the workplace?

The bottom line is, workplace bullying isn't uncommon in the workplace. And it’s something we should all be aware of.

We told you about bullying in the workplace and how it can negatively impact both individuals and the work environment.

We also gave you a rundown of some of the most common types of harassment you may encounter.

Our list includes verbal bullying, physical bullying, sexual harassment, intimidation, cyberbullying, and discrimination.

Remember, workplace bullying isn't something you should have to live with. You may be able to seek advice at work, or if it's a legal matter, you can contact local law enforcement.

Want more career advice? Check out our Getting Hired Resource Center.

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Michael Frash
Community Specialist
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Comments

Adrian Johnson

Bullying? Adults? Where has standing up for yourself gone to?? Back in the day, let somebody disrespect me, ass whipping regardless!!

38w
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James Dickey

Bullying is not tolerated within the organization I work for. I can speak for my higher ups, my immediate boss, and my associates under me. We never tolerate that kind of behavior and if you engage in it, you will not last long on the team. That’s all there is to it. I witness it or if it’s brought to my attention, the instructions I’m under clearly state I am to investigate it, partner with Store Management or District depending on who’s involved, and gather statements. Of all people, I especially will never tolerate that behavior. If my employer catches you in the act, you’re gone. Bullying of any kind for any reason is unacceptable, period.

38w
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Dan Poon

If you want to see what bullying is like, get a job at an Amazon Warehouse.

38w
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Jose Pena

You just have to document everything and hopefully present the situation to your management team. If not, present it to your Human Resources. Lastly, you can file a grevivance.

38w
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2
Jose Pena

This is really good advice. It is hard to see sometimes when you are bullied by coworkers or the management itself.

38w
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