Bullies in the Workplace


Every day employees, whether executives, managers or front line workers, experience it. It dents confidence, damages self-esteem and increases stress and ill-health. Workplace bullying not only undermines morale and productivity but it can also leads to violence.

Cartoon depicting Bullies in the Workplace

Often bullying behaviour is dismissed as poor management style: an overbearing boss or supervisor shouts out orders and makes snide remarks to belittle those who do not perform quickly enough. It should not be dismissed or excused. More insidiously, it occurs between co-workers in subtle but malicious forms of gossiping, back-stabbing, rumour-spreading, deviousness and work sabotage.

Workplace bullying includes all types of interpersonal harassment and discrimination. Some are blatantly illegal, as when there are sexual or racial overtones, but most are not.

Bullying has been called a silent epidemic. From the playground to the workplace, bullying is rife. It is loosely defined as repeated aggressive behaviour that deliberately causes physical or psychological torment. It is often subtle and undermining and hard to put your finger on it. But it may indeed be a precursor to violent outbursts or threats of violence. It contributes to creating a hostile working environment and is a signal or warning sign of potential harassment and workplace violence.

Bullies and the Bottom Line

Generally speaking, bullying in the workplace goes largely unrecognised by employers but incivility at work hurts a company’s bottom line! Research at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology indicates that one third to one half of all stress related illness is attributable to bullying in the workplace. The biggest loss is in energy and time spent on the issues surrounding bullying.

Christine Pearson, a management professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, surveyed 775 people who were targets of bullying at work.

Pearson found:

28% lost work time worrying about avoiding the instigator

53% lost work time worrying about the incident or future interactions

37% believe that their commitment to the organisation declined

22% decreased their effort at work

10% decreased the amount of time they spent at work

46% contemplated changing jobs to avoid the instigator

12% changed jobs to avoid the instigator

Bullying and workplace violence can be a response to the anger, fear and uncertainty that exists in work organisations because of the high stress caused by change, such as downsizing, downturns in the economy, new technology and marketing pressure.

This stress can be alleviated though. Studies show that when people perceive the workplace as fair, they don’t act out. A healthy organisation provides a sense that it is possible to move within the organisation as change occurs. Employees are also more likely to feel they are trusted, respected, treated with dignity and given some control over their jobs.

In many low-morale organisations, one frequently heard complaint is that people want to be treated with a sense of dignity and respect. In view of the fact that people get so much of their identity from the workplace, the importance of respect in the workplace cannot be emphasised enough.

So, what do you do to tackle bullying in the workplace?

Your business or organisation is responsible for a psychologically healthy environment. The following are a few organisational issues which may need to be addressed:

  • Provide training programmes for employees on communicating with difficult people and practicing assertiveness and respect in the workplace.
  • Make coaching/training available for both the person displaying bullying behaviour and the ‘bullied’ person.
  • Provide a reporting system for incidents of bullying, intimidation and harassment.
  • Intervene with feedback to the offending person and document the interaction.
  • Set limits about appropriate behaviour and communications and enforce standards.
  • Practice praise and positive confrontation.
  • Encourage co-workers to help each other in handling interpersonal problems.

Unfortunately, few workplaces can be called psychologically healthy but a great place to start is by practicing respect in the workplace. Eliminating bullying changes a whole company; production and efficiency goes up, morale improves and profits soar. Now, that does work for me…what about you?

If you, your business or organisation could benefit from help with this or any other ‘people’ related issue, please give Cazbro a call and we’ll be happy to assist.

Give us a call on 07803 172 198 or drop us an email to discover the different ways in which Cazbro can help you achieve your aims.