How To Address Bullying At Work

By: Mary Elizabeth Dean

Updated August 28, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Kristen Hardin

Bullying in the workplace is problematic for a series of reasons. Individuals who are subjected to this manner of mistreatment can potentially have their income, professional positions, and peace of mind disturbed. Sometimes bullying can come from coworkers; in other scenarios, business partners, bosses, or individuals in power or authority. It goes without saying that understanding how to address bullying at work certainly makes a difference. However, before anyone can know how to address bullying at work, they must first understand exactly what all entails bullying in the workplace.

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An Overview of Bullying at Work

You may be shocked to learn that one study found that 75% of working people are impacted by bullying in their professional environments. This is a shockingly high number and it speaks volumes about just how important it is to address bullying at work. The workplace is where people go to earn a living and advance their careers. Bullying impedes an individual's ability to successfully make a way for themselves while still feeling comfortable and secure.

Dynamics of Workplace Bullying

Understanding the dynamics of bullying at work is critical. More often than not, this form of bullying occurs on verbal and psychological levels, as opposed to physical ones. This does not, in any way, diminish the adverse impacts of bullying at work, nor should it be taken any less seriously. The recurring dynamics of workplace bullying are frequency, longevity, escalation, power imbalances, and the endgame.

More often than not, workplace bullying is something the victim experiences on a frequent basis. Sometimes, bullying begins gradually, but then picks up and becomes more habitual over time. Even to this day, there are still certain misconceptions about the frequency of bullying. Many people have been led to believe that ignoring a bully will discourage their bad behavior. This is far from accurate, especially when the workplace, somewhere a person is obligated to go, is involved.

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The longevity of bullying in the workplace is another critical element. Often, bullies tend to persist with their bad behavior. There are all kinds of reasons behind this, but in most cases, bullies need to be forced to stop what they are doing. Certain instances of workplace bullies are longer than others; the extent of time which someone is subjected to this manner of ill-treatment depends upon a series of factors.

When dealing with workplace bullying, it's no secret that this behavior has a tendency to escalate. The majority of bullies start off with caution. Once they come to believe they can get away with what they're doing, they tend to up the ante. Bullying, in all forms and places, almost always comes with certain levels of sadism. Unfortunately, there are certain individuals who can only feel bigger and better when they are making someone else feel smaller or worse.

Power imbalances are another extremely relevant dynamic in the world of bullying at work. It's not uncommon to hear about a boss bullying his or her employees and making their lives miserable; it's a tale as old as time. Of course, power imbalances are not always involved in workplace bullying. Sometimes, workers who engage in bullying are at the same level of seniority as their victims. However, in many circumstances, the person on the receiving end isn't in the best position to protect themselves.

Last but certainly not least on the list of workplace bullying dynamics comes the intent of the bully. In all honesty, there are a series of reasons why someone in the workplace decides to engage in bullying. They may be looking to run their victim out of the company or business. In other cases, jealousy may be a factor or the victim could be perceived as a threat. Sometimes, individuals in higher positions of authority engage in bullying because they enjoy having control over other people.

Addressing Bullying at Work

If you or someone else is dealing with bullying at work, then it has to be addressed. As previously stated, the idea that a bully will eventually stop if they are ignored is usually not accurate. Thankfully, there are a series of strategic moves which you can make to address bullying at work, regardless of whether you or someone else is being targeted.

Document the Bullying

When dealing with workplace bullying, making written documentation each time an incident takes place is in your best interest. This accomplishes many objectives; first and foremost, it establishes a pattern. Having ongoing written notes of bullying solidifies your case if the matter is escalated. It's easy for someone to cast doubt on one instance, but a pattern is very different. If you want, you can also share these notes with people who you know you can trust. This ensures that other individuals are aware of what's happening. Sometimes, having witnesses who can corroborate a story helps put an end to a workplace bully's reign of terror.

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Tell the Bully to Stop

Telling the bully to stop what they are doing can sometimes serve as an effective method in the workplace. However, you also have to be careful, depending on the nature of the situation. If the bully happens to be in a position of power, then it may be best to take the issue to the higher-ups. However, if a coworker, or someone who doesn't professionally outrank you, is targeting you, telling them that you don't appreciate what they're doing can be helpful. Ultimately, this one comes down to a judgment call. Don't be afraid to trust your instincts. If you let someone know you are uncomfortable, regardless of who they are in terms of seniority and rank, it gives them a chance to correct their behavior.

Take the Matter to the Higher-Ups

If the bullying persists, then taking this issue to the high-ups within the workplace may be the next course of action. Regardless of an individuals' standing, reason, or position, they do not have the right to bully or intimidate others. When you do report the matter to the higher-ups at your workplace, be sure to take all documentation of bullying with you. Make copies so that you can share his information with the right people and still have evidence for your own safekeeping.

Additional Information about Bullying at Work

When you're faced with bullying at work, this is not a spot which anyone desires. However, knowing how to address these types of situations and continue moving forward is beneficial to you both in the long-term and short-term. Ultimately, bullies of all kinds thrive off of power and control. Handling bullying in the proper manner robs perpetrators of what empowers them and shuts down their targeted mistreatment.

When confronted with workplace bullying, it's important to remember that you are not at fault. So many individuals who experience bullying believe that they are to blame. In other cases, victims sometimes wonder whether or not they did something to provoke the perpetrator of bullying. The truth of the matter is that each person is accountable for his or her own actions. If someone chooses to engage in bullying, they alone are responsible and deserve to be held accountable.

What if You're the Bully at Work?

If you are bullying someone at work, it's important to realize that what you're doing isn't okay. Adversely impacting someone's ability to thrive in the workplace and do their job is unacceptable. Feeling the need to target someone else at their place of work is something which may eventually backfire and bring about consequences which you may not like. You can stop what you are doing and apologize to those you have bullied and make amends.

You may also find it worthwhile to dig deep and find out why you feel the need to bully others. Many bullies, whether in the workplace or otherwise, convince themselves into believing that their victims are at fault, but this simply isn't accurate. As previously stated, each individual is accountable for their own actions. Whenever you feel the need to go after other people and engage in bullying, this is a sign of internal healing which needs to happen.

Asking for Help

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No matter your position or place of work, dealing with bullying in a professional environment certainly presents a unique challenge. When you find yourself in a situation like this, it's easy to feel as though you are all alone, although you don't have to be. Believe it or not, help and resources are all around you.

If you're interested, you may find that signing up for online therapy is a great way to overcome bullying at work or any other issues in your life. Having access to a professional therapist not only helps to place things into perspective, but it furthermore ensures that you're not alone. Getting a different viewpoint and professional advice that is specifically tailored to your situation can be life-changing.


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