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 Workplace bullying: signs and how to overcome

workplace bullying

workplace bullying

In my previous article, I discussed workplace toxicity signs. There, bullying has been covered as a part of the workplace toxicity signs. In this article, I will focus on workplace bullying. So get ready to read to the end to know the signs of workplace bullying, what you can do to fight such situations and prevent them from occurring in the future.

What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying is a very common reason for employees to leave their job voluntarily. Workplace bullying can be done in the form of

The primary purpose behind workplace bullying is to devoid the victim of their own identity and power. 

Causes behind workplace bullying

People bully others when they are jealous of the status that the victim holds. Their aim is to strip the other person of their identity and power. They may be jealous of what the victim has or feel threatened and insecure in their presence. They feel good when they can take others down. This gives them a sense of power over the other person. 

Workplace bullying

Effect of workplace bullying on the victim

The victim is the one who is facing workplace bullying. Such behavior can turn the hospitable, friendly, and peaceful environment of the workplace into an environment of fear and intimidation. The employees may not even want to go to the office due to the toxic environment and the presence of bullies. Such unwarranted, uninvited, and underserved behavior makes it difficult for the victim to work in peace. 

Bullying at work has an adverse effect on the victim’s mental and physical condition. The potential effects include stress, depression, anxiety, trauma, gastrointestinal issues, unexplained pain, and others. The constant environment of bullying can be extremely debilitating and damaging to the victim. It creates an environment of fear and confusion. The victim is constantly afraid and wondering if their job is secure or not. 

These worries keep the person from delivering their best performance in the workplace. Their below-the-mark performance further worries them. Not only are they afraid of being bullied, but they are also always afraid of getting sacked by bosses. This is no way for an employee to work. Employees and bosses must make sure that the environment is nontoxic and welcoming for everyone. 

Meaning of workplace bullying

Workplace bullying is defined as a display of regular mistreatment and aversive conduct by bosses towards employees. The abusive conduct, humiliating, intimidating, or threatening the victim hurts their ability to properly focus on their tasks. These tendencies interfere with the ability of the employees to deliver optimal performance at the workplace. 

Difference between bullying and annoyance

There is a clear demarcation between bullying and annoyance at the workplace. Constant bullying leads to an imbalance of psychological power between the bullying and the victim. Bullying makes the victim feel helpless. The victims feel trapped and have nowhere to go. Annoyance is more of a momentary thing. A person facing annoyance can call out the perpetrator and ask them to stop. But in the case of bullying, the victim is afraid of losing their job.

Difference between workplace bullying and harassment

Harassing a coworker is illegal. If there is harassment going on at the workplace, an official complaint can be registered against it with the HR department of the company or even with the police. However, unlike harassment, bullying is not illegal. All the more reasons why workers feel lost and helpless when they suffer workplace bullying. With regards to bullying, there is no body where a complaint can be registered against the perpetrator. 

bullying vs harassment

Harassment hinges on mistreatment towards a protected class like race, sex, religion, or even nationality of the person. However, bullying is not related to these. Therefore, even though bullying is soul-crushing and makes the person feel as if they are stuck in a toxic prison, it is not against the law. 

Workplace bullying: the different types of bullies

Before I discuss how to tackle workplace bullying, you need to understand the different types of workplace bullies that exist. Bullying can occur in various forms, and you need to understand those forms first before you learn how to protect yourself.

The screamer

These bullies focus on aggressive communication.

They are typical bullies. The ones who think that they can throw their weight around by screaming, yelling, and cursing others. Such bullies love to make a public scene and are not afraid of their targets or even authorities. Their aim is to make their victim and everyone else in the office fear them. This way, they can be sure that no one will rise up against them and register complaints. 

Such bullies prefer to use aggressive communication. This aggressive communication not only includes sending angry emails, yelling, and other means of verbal abuse, but they also focus on keeping their body language aggressive. They want everyone to cower in fear in their presence.

Continuous critic

Such bullies prefer to use humiliation and disparagement as their means of intimidation.

If you are constantly being criticized for every work you do in the office, it is a sign of constant criticism. Such people prefer to intimidate their victims by stealing their self-confidence. They will send disparage emails and constantly chastise the victim over every tiny mistake. Eventually, the victim loses confidence in their work and themselves. This gives the perpetrator power over the victims. 

Higher mistake chances

Now when the victim works, they constantly wonder if they are committing another mistake and will be chastised again. Such people stater to work harder and for long hours. They put their relationships and family lives on hold to be better at the workplace. But they never receive the recognition they deserve. They also do not get credit for any of their work. The abuser uses direct or offensive ways to steal the credit and move the limelight towards themselves. 

Such people refrain from shouting in front of others. They will reserve their comments and disparaging for them if they are alone or inform you of them via email. Such behavior causes the employee to be so terrified of the boss that their work starts to suffer. They may also get fired from the workplace for this reason. 

The manipulator and withholder

Another manner of workplace bullying is when the people in authority criticize the work of the employee repeatedly but do not provide valuable suggestions or feedback on how the work can be improved. Such people may not give any instruction on how the work is to be done in the first place. The employee will be left figuring out how to get the task done, and later the employer will criticize every move made by the employee and belittle them. 

Not providing proper interaction of how a certain work is to be done is a manner of withholding responses. This type of bullying can also be exhibited by the employee withholding other important stuff like time, information, instruction, help, or any other item or suggestion that can help the employee be more proficient at their work. They may forget to invite you to parties, important meetings, calls, etc. 

Behind the scenes meddler

This bullying type is the hardest one to detect amongst all. Such bullies will pretend that they are your friend, gain your confidence and then undermine you when you are not looking. They tend to control how others think and perceive you. Behind your back, such people will tear you to shreds. On the front, they will seem like your well-wishers. But the moment your back is turned, they will refer to you as unskilled, unreliable, useless, etc. 

Types of workplace bullies

In case another coworker tops you off, you may realize what they are up to. Otherwise, this behavior can easily go unnoticed. It is impossible to combat or fight against something that you don’t even know exists. On your face, they will pretend to be your friend; behind your back, they will be your enemies.

Why are workplace bullying cases not reported?

Most often, workplace bullies are those who are good performers. They may be the ones bringing in the high-paying clients, large deals, or coming up with effective solutions to the problems the company may be facing. Since they bring in the maximum profit to the company, the company will do anything to retain such people. 

Sometimes bullies will do anything to get into the good looks of their superiors. Thus, when someone finally does complain against them, the complaint falls on deaf ears. The bullies may also be praised for their behavior by the seniors and people having higher authority. 

Bullies are able to get away with their behavior because the culture of the company allows and fosters it further. The problem is partly in the work culture that allows such behavior to continue. If the work environment and authorities bring out an anti-bullying policy, such behavior will reduce dramatically. The reason bullies keep going is that they know that no one is going to check them for such behavior. If the work environment stops looking the other way with regard to such behavior and starts to take action against such people, bullying will stop. 

Dealing with workplace bullying

Hoping that workplace bullying stops or that authorities bring in reinforcements to stop such behavior is not a solution. You need to know to protect yourself from such people. You must learn to stand up and focus on your rights. No one can bully you if you don’t let them. The moment bullies sense a change in your behavior, the moment they understand that you are not going to take their abuse and will fight back, they will start backing off.

Here are some methods to combat workplace bullying:

Stand up for yourself.

The moment you notice that someone is trying to bully you, stand up for yourself. If you nip the issue in the bud early on, chances are that your attacker will back off and not try to bully you again. The timing is crucial in this matter. Do not give the bully any power over you. Here are a few options that you can make use of:

Bring attention to their inherent values.

Be polite and talk to the bully about what they believe in. “I know you mean well and are only trying to help. But instead of doing x, maybe you can lead with y next time. This will show the person that you care for them, and at the same time, they will not feel undervalued.”

Explain the problem to them

Be polite but frank. “I noticed that you said this. Unfortunately, the tone sounded slightly condescending. This makes it difficult and challenging for us to work successfully as a team. I understand that you want us to succeed. But maybe, not talk this way next time?”

Use their names a ton of times when explaining.

“Sabrina, I know you want the betterment of the company and your colleagues, but Sabrina, this method makes it difficult for everyone to be a team. Sabrina, you come off as a little intimidating to others. But to work efficiently and day, we need to all be on one side, Sabrina.

what can you do

Focus on the body language when confronting

Your body language says a lot about you. You may feel afraid from the inside, but if you slouch your shoulders, talk in a low voice and give off the vibe that you are scared, the bully will never take you seriously. They may even ridicule your attempt to stand up for yourself. Body language and how you present yourself are always read by others, whether consciously or subconsciously. Thus, stand straight, don’t fidget with your feet, and speak in a clear voice. 

The aforementioned steps need to be taken during the early stages of bullying itself. If you decide to revolt after months have already passed, your words will not have any effect. The bullying may actually intensify as a result of late speaking. If you have already endured months of regular bullying, then this approach is not the right one for you. You must focus on a different approach. 

Document the incidences

Unfortunately, you did not realize when the bullying started. But now you have. You may have missed your chances of nipping the problem in the bud, but there is still plenty that can be done. The moment you realize that you are the victim of bullying, start collecting evidence. 

Maintain a journal about all the things that happen with regard to bullying. Write down the who, when, where, and what of all the incidents. In case you weren’t able to note down the details immediately, note them the moment you get to your desk. These factors will help you in case you decide to complain about the bully later. The authorities may ask you for concrete evidence. Thus it is always better to be prepared before you approach the complaint cell, 

In case you can find any other form of evidence like emails etc., collect them as well. in case your boss is criticizing you for bad performance, collect documentation that proves otherwise. In case you have received any praise from others in email or any other correspondence form, collect it and store it as proof. 

Focus on self-care

The one thing we always forget when life throws curve balls at us is self-care. Bullying can take a huge toll on your physical and mental well-being. Thus, indulging in self-care is a non-negotiable part of the deal. Self-care can help you recover and balance the scales.  

You can indulge in yoga, join a basketball team, read some books, focus on meditation, etc. Anything that makes you feel better about yourself can help you balance the damages. Alternatively, you can also spend some time with your family, friends and close ones. If talking to them makes you feel nice, do that. They can be your support system while you figure out how to deal with workplace bullying. 

If things are tough, you can also get help from professional mental health counselors. They can guide and train you in the use of relaxation techniques. These can be used when the anxiety starts to set in. Go to a counselor who has prior experience in handling trauma cases. 

Conduct your own research

Check the company forums and find out if your company has rules against bullying, verbal abuse, harassment, or the specific situation that you might be facing. As I mentioned before, bullying is not illegal. The company may or may not have rules against bullying. Thus, it is in your best interest to find out if there are rules in place against bullying. 

In the meantime, you can also opt to go and consult the legal department of your company. If there is a legal course or action you can take, they will inform you about the same, and you can follow through. You can also go to a lawyer or law firm that deals with such cases if you do not wish to consult anyone from the company. 

Talk to higher authorities if it’s your boss who is the bully

If it’s a coworker at the same level who is bullying you, you can talk to your boss. But if it is your boss who is bullying you, whom do you talk to? In such circumstances, you need to go to the higher authorities. 

The first thing you need to figure out is if you trust the people who are in the higher up to deal with the situation. Understand the relationship of your boss with their bosses first. If they are already close pals, there is a chance that the right action may not be taken. The case may also be dismissed, or you may face repercussions because you complained. 

Talk to higher authorities

Discuss the matter with someone in power

Before you approach the HR department of the company or someone who can take action in such a matter, there is one another that you must figure out. Find out if you are going to an HR person who is focused on people and work culture or if you need to go to an HR person who focuses on rules and compliance. If you go to HR, which is focused on work culture, they will be able to help you. However, if you go to the HR team that focuses on rules, the matter may not be a pattern of the type of grievances they deal with. 

Second, focus on whether you are making a business or a personal plea. If it is a business plea, you must prove how the toxicity of the bully is hampering the progress of every person and contributing to the losses of the company. This way, you can show the resources lost and the time wasted. 

Finally decided on the following. Do you just wish to inform them, or do you want them to take action against such behavior as well? What exactly you need from the HR department is something that you must have in mind before you make your way over there. How will you tackle the situation if things don’t turn out the way you were expecting? Are you ready to leave the constant and look for new openings and offers? Remember: your dignity, self-respect, and psychological health are the most important factors and cannot be ignored. 

Focus on finding a new job

In the case of workplace bullying scenarios, the victim leaves the job in the end. This primarily happens because either the work culture is too toxic for the person, and the victim finds it hard to deliver in such a high-pressure and bullying environment, or the victim loses focus and lands you getting sacked from the company. 

Thus, if you are facing a case of workplace bullying, it is in your best interest to start looking for a job as soon as possible. This is especially crucial if the company does not have rules in place against workplace bullying. There is no harm in looking for better options or having a few projects in the pipeline if things don’t go your way. 

What to do if someone else is getting bullied?

It may happen that you are not the one being bullied, it’s your friend or a coworker. How do you approach such a situation? You need not be the bully or the victim to stand up against bullying. Even if you are a mere bystander, you can bring about a difference. If you don’t act against bullying, you are allowing the bully to bully you in the future as well. Hence, the time to stand against bullying is right now. 

Help others

There are two ways of dealing with workplace bullying when you are not the one being targeted

State the problems and the consequences and offer a solution

Suppose your coworker is yelling during a meeting. Once the meeting ends, talk to them. Tell them, “hey, I noticed you were telling. Is everything okay? Actually, when you yell, it kinda brings down the one-team feeling. People find it hard to pitch in their ideas and talk freely. How about next time we keep our voices on a lower level so we can get through the brainstorming sessions, in a productive manner?” You can take this action in front of others. This way, you have eyewitnesses to the scenario, and it will also empower others to stand up against the bully.

Join forces with others

If you notice the boss or coworker being a bully, you can discuss with the other coworkers about the behavior. Most likely, they would have noticed. Tell them they might be next on the list. Ask them if they wish to join forces and fight against bullying together. More than one voice will have a greater impact than just one voice. 

Finally, you can also talk to the bully by taking them aside and politely pointing out the problems to them. Everyone deserves one chance to correct their behavior. This can be that one chance. Informal coaching methods can actually prove to be more effective than registering a formal complaint with the authorities.

Preventing getting bullied in the future workplace

Once you have escaped the toxic environment of your current workplace? You don’t want to land up in the same situation when you join a new workforce, right? How do you handle such a problem? How do you avoid bullies at your future job? 

One easy way to do this is to find out as much information as you can before you say yes to the offer made by the company. To do this, inquire about the most successful people from the current employees. Their insights can be used to judge if the environment is right for you or not. Here are a few questions you can ask

What is the manager like? If people give you positive reviews without any kind of uncertainty in their voices, you will know that the workers love the boss. However, if there is uncertainty in the voices like, “umm… he is good… he has been here a long while, etc., etc.. it is a clear red flag sign.”

These questions can help you dodge a massive chance of bullying in your next workplace. 


Have you ever faced workplace toxicity and bullying? How did you tackle such a situation? Unfortunately, workplace bullying has become too common these days. Very few companies have strategies in place to protect their workers. Therefore, it is your responsibility to protect yourself and others at your workplace. Never bow down to a bully. Raise your voice the moment you realize that you are being bullied.

STOP workplace bullying

Another crucial point is to figure out if it really is workplace bullying that you are facing. Going ahead with a half-clocked gun is of no use to you. It can also hamper your reputation in the future. So always be 100% sure that you are being bullied before you approach anyone to look into the matter.

Bullying should not be allowed to progress in the workplace or anywhere else for that matter. If you don’t stop the bully today, tomorrow, you may be his next victim. Thus, always take action and never be a bystander if your coworker is bullying someone at the office.

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See you in my next blog post

Dr. Shruti

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