How To Address Bullying At Work

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated March 7, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Bullying in the workplace can be problematic for many 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, it may come from business partners, bosses, or other individuals in power or authority. Common dynamics at play in workplace bullying can include frequency, longevity, escalation, power imbalances, and the endgame. It can be crucial to document all instances of bullying, tell the bully to stop, and take the matter to higher-ups. Whether you are the bully or the target of the bully, working with a therapist in person or online can be beneficial.

Is workplace bullying affecting your ability to do your job?

An overview of bullying at work

One study found that 75% of working people are typically impacted by bullying in their professional environments. This number may speak volumes about just how important it can be to address bullying at work. The workplace is generally where people go to earn a living and advance their careers. Bullying may impede an individual's ability to successfully make a way for themselves while still feeling comfortable and safe.

Dynamics of workplace bullying

Understanding the dynamics of bullying at work can be critical. Often, 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 usually frequency, longevity, escalation, power imbalances, and the endgame.


Often, workplace bullying is something the bully’s target may experience on a frequent basis. Sometimes, bullying begins gradually, then picks up and becomes more habitual over time. Even today, there can still be certain misconceptions about the frequency of bullying. Many people have been led to believe that ignoring a bully will discourage their bad behavior. This can be far from accurate, especially when the workplace, somewhere a person is obligated to go, is involved.



The longevity of bullying in the workplace can be another critical element. Often, bullies tend to persist with their bad behavior. There can be many reasons behind this, but in most cases, bullies must be forced to stop what they are doing. Certain workplace bullying situations may occur for longer than others; the extent of time someone is subjected to this manner of treatment usually depends upon a series of factors.


When experiencing workplace bullying, it may be no secret that this behavior tends to escalate. Most bullies begin 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. Certain individuals may only feel bigger and better when they make someone else feel smaller or worse.

Power imbalances

Power imbalances can be another relevant dynamic in the world of bullying at work. It's not uncommon to hear about a boss bullying their employees and making their lives miserable. Power imbalances are not always involved in workplace bullying, however. Sometimes, workers who engage in bullying are at the same level of seniority as their targets. However, in many circumstances, the person on the receiving end isn't in the best position to defend themselves.


Last but certainly not least on the list of workplace bullying dynamics may be the intent of the bully. There can be a range of reasons why someone in the workplace decides to engage in bullying. They may be looking to run their target out of the company or business. In other cases, jealousy may be a factor, or the target may 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 experiencing bullying at work, then it generally must be addressed. As previously stated, the idea that a bully will eventually stop if ignored is usually inaccurate. You can make a series of strategic moves to address the bullying, regardless of whether you or someone else is being targeted.

Document the bullying

When dealing with workplace bullying, creating written documentation each time an incident takes place is usually in your best interest. This can accomplish many objectives. First and foremost, it can establish a pattern. Having ongoing written notes of bullying may solidify your case if the matter is escalated. It may be easy for someone to cast doubt on one instance, but a pattern is typically very different.

If you’d like, you can also show these notes to people you trust. This may ensure 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.

Is workplace bullying affecting your ability to do your job?

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 must 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 can come down to a judgment call. Don't be afraid to trust your instincts. Letting someone know you are uncomfortable, regardless of who they are in terms of seniority and rank, may give them a chance to correct their behavior.

Take the matter to the higher-ups

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

Additional information about bullying at work

Knowing how to deal with bullies, address these situations, and move forward can be beneficial both in the long term and the short term. Ultimately, bullies of all kinds normally thrive off power and control. Handling bullying in the proper manner may rob perpetrators of what empowers them and shut down their targeted mistreatment.

When confronted with workplace bullying, it can be important to remember that you are not at fault. Many individuals who experience bullying believe that they are to blame. In other cases, bullies’ targets sometimes wonder whether they did something to provoke the bully. The truth of the matter may be that each person is accountable for their own actions. If someone chooses to engage in bullying, they alone may be responsible and deserve to be held accountable.

What if you're the bully at work?

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

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

Asking for help

No matter your position or place of work, experiencing bullying in a professional environment can present a unique challenge. When you find yourself in a situation like this, it can be easy to believe you are all alone, but you don't have to be. Help and resources may be all around you.

While in-person therapy may be an option for you, you may also wish to consider online therapy as an option for professional insight and guidance. Online therapy can add convenience and customization to the therapy experience, potentially helping you feel more comfortable opening up about vulnerable topics like bullying. You can attend sessions from the location of your choice at a time that fits your schedule and choose from video call, phone call, and online chat.

A 2022 study investigated the effectiveness of online cognitive processing therapy for individuals who persistently experienced bullying. It found that “the results of this trial suggest that internet-delivered CPT is effective for the psychological distress and maladaptive appraisals associated with bullying victimization.” 


As a general rule, bullying in the workplace is never acceptable and can lead to many harmful outcomes. If you’re being bullied at work, be sure to document each instance of bullying, talk to the bully directly about their behavior if possible, and inform relevant authorities of the situation. You may also find it helpful to speak with a therapist about your thoughts and feelings regarding the bullying, whether you are the bully or the bully’s target.
Is bullying impacting your life?
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