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Workplace Bullying

Workplace Bullying: Is It Happening at Your Company?

By Josh Young Aug 15, 2017

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According to a 2017 survey conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), nearly one-fifth—19 percent—of respondents indicated that they had been bullied in the workplace over the course of their careers. And another 19 percent indicated that they had witnessed some form of bullying or abusive conduct at work.

Based on these findings, the institute estimates that roughly 60.3 million U.S. workers are currently being or have been affected by workplace bullying. Given that such a figure is equivalent to the combined populations of California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Utah and Nevada—this estimate is troubling to say the least.

Beyond bullying, what else might your company be overlooking? Read: Does Your Harassment Training Cover These 5 Areas?

What Does Workplace Bullying Look Like?

What exactly is workplace bullying? Well, while definitions vary, the WBI defines bullying behavior in its survey as "repeated abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating, humiliating, work sabotage, or verbal abuse."

Some common examples of workplace bullying tactics are:

  • Spreading malicious rumors or gossip
  • Excluding a worker from important meetings or isolating them socially
  • Sabotaging coworkers or direct reports (e.g., setting unreasonable timelines, withholding key data)
  • Distributing assignments unevenly
  • Yelling or using profanity
  • Belittling a worker's contributions, particularly in public
  • Tampering with (or "pranking") a person's personal property or work equipment

In many cases, workplace bullying reinforces existing power dynamics. So, while 61 percent of bullying behavior identified in the WBI study originated from "bosses," only 6 percent involved employees bullying someone with a higher "rank" than them. And roughly one-third was attributed to peers.

Equally concerning, bullying targets were disproportionately members of protected groups with Hispanic and African-American workers targeted most frequently.

What are the Signs of Workplace Bullying

Unfortunately, bullying frequently occurs "below the radar." Among those that reported being bullied or witnessing bullying behavior, only 13 percent formally reported this behavior to their employer, while 18 percent did so informally.

This means that over-two thirds of incidents reported in the WBI survey were never mentioned to the employer.

So how can your business tell if workplace bullying is a problem? Some common signs are:

  • Persistent absenteeism (often with little advanced notice)
  • High employee turnover
  • Low productivity and engagement
  • Reports of high stress among the workforce
  • Poor customer service
  • Frequent incidents of shouting or violence

How Can You Prevent Workplace Bullying?

Change your corporate culture

Make it clear to everyone in your organization that respectful and professional behavior is a requirement. Outline appropriate conduct in existing employee guidelines, and frequently stress the importance of teamwork and cooperation.

Provide ongoing training

Your managers and supervisors need to be empowered to identify and address problematic or bullying behavior before it escalates. Provide ongoing training that outlines company policy and that offers tools and strategies to defuse conflict. When supervisors and those in power consistently make it clear that harassing or bullying behavior is not to be tolerated, the rest of the organization will quickly fall in line.

Create conflict resolution processes

Often, workplace bullies operate not only within the realms of legal behavior—avoiding unlawful harassment or discrimination—but also within the defined limits of company policy. Their actions may be uncivil, but they do not always blatantly violate ethics guidelines.

Rather than trying to forbid social and relational strife through corporate policy, put in place a conflict resolution process that allows workers to air and resolve their grievances in a healthy environment. These discussions should be arbitrated by managers or HR staff and be practical in nature, focusing on specific behaviors that impact team unity and productivity.

Offer anonymous reporting

Considering that a noticeable portion of bullying behavior comes from managers, you should also provide your employees with a means to report aggressive or inappropriate behavior anonymously.


By being proactive and demanding high levels of civility and cooperation from your workers, your business can help prevent workplace bullying from becoming a larger problem.

To help create a safe, healthy environment for your workforce, check out our workplace bullying and violence prevention courses today.

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