How bad of a problem is bullying?

You hear about bullies in school all of the time. Most of us have had some experience with one. But when they leave the playground they often enter the workplace. How common do you think bullying in the workplace is? Have you experienced it or witnessed it in the workplace? What have you seen work as a defense against bullying?

Share your stories and experiences and let’s learn from one another.

45 thoughts on “How bad of a problem is bullying?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention How bad of a problem is bullying? « The Engagement Factor Blog --

  2. The word seems to be very freely used these days. In some sectors, if you tell somebody what to do, you get accused of bullying.

    Undoubtably, some managers need help with understanding the impact of their behaviour on others, but the other side of the coin is, that we have to realise that not being nice to people is not illegal. We can all have a bad day, an aggressive manner etc., but it does not make us a bully in the sense that people genuinely feel intimidated.

    There is a place for the angry and demanding boss!


  3. Without really going into it, “a bully is a bully, ONLY if you allow them to continue bullying you. ” I stood up to one at work and I won”. I grew up in New York and was taught to be a “Survivor”. Everyone else allowed this person to bully them, and were teriffied of her. I was a little afraid to, but I never let her see it, and I took action and by the Grace of GOD, I won.


  4. It has happened on LinkedIn lists when other people don’t like a positive comment by one member and post nasty messages or even private cursing emails in response. Otherwise, I notice that many private schools post signs at their entrance gate that their schools are bully-free zones, kind of like drug-free zones. I don’t have personal experience of their policies.


  5. Ken,

    Thanks for the comments. I know I was using the term “bully” in its truest sense. Everyone has there moments and we can all use a little forgiveness now and then when we are short. I was also not referring specifically to managers. I think anyone can create a hostile, bullying situation. I agree bullying is not telling someone what to do and there are people in the workforce that must develop a thicker skin.

    A couple of points I would like to react to:

    1. Whether or not something is illegal or not does not nor should not determine whether or not it is right.

    2. One can be demanding without being angry.

    3. Leaders should be aware of the impact they have on others and take ownership for that impact. So should employees.

  6. Kathleen,

    I have been lucky and not experienced the darker side of LinkedIn. That is a shame. I think many people respond in that manner because they feel threatened for some reason. Thank you for sharing those thoughts and your knowledge.

  7. Brad, I understand it is a ‘sore’ subject. In fact I know someone who is being bullied at work today. I think it is a case of ‘constructive discharge’ because that person is a minority (female, over 40). It is a typical tactic used by many similar companies.


  8. Laurence,

    It is a terrible tactic and there is no excuse for it. I feel for those who are bullied and would like to stop and help those who are the bullies. I think many bullies act out of fear and discomfort and use these tactics as a vehicle to stay in control.

  9. Laurence,

    I also want to say that I would like more to be done to support those who are bullied. In many cases these individuals areto scared to change their circumstances and standing up is the first step.

  10. This is a very big problem in the workplace, especially if the bully is favored by senior management. I know there is proposed legislation to assist with these cases, but do not know status.


  11. From what I have witnessed in the workplace, bullying from colleagues (your own rank) can also be disturbing and unproductive. That includes put-downs, gossip-spreading, exclusions from meetings/discussions/memos, etc.


  12. You may also like to check out Brett A Scudder as he is doing a lot of work on Bullying but in a different area, I’m sure there are many cross-overs that we could all share and learn from.


  13. It can be found in any business at any time. The problem is that most people think of bullying as the bigger kid beating up the little kid. Bullying in the workplace, however, includes intimidation, the withholding of resources for employees to be successful, the generation of untrue rumors, the development of cliques that keep some employees as outsiders, etc. With this definition, bullying is widespread.


  14. Unfortunately I came into contact with a bully at work. I was unable to stand up to her because I hadn’t realised what was happening until it put me off work.I think sometimes it is very hard to spot and then not so easy to deal with. If it is full on bullying rather than someone enjoying power carefully taking away responsibilities without you realising there is something wrong it is a difficult thing to assess.


  15. Carole,

    I am sorry to hear about your experience. I hope at the very least it has provided you with some knowledge and skills to help you deal with any potential future situations.

    Thank you for sharing and helping others see the detrimental effect bullying has on people in the workplace.


  16. I believe legislation is necessary. I wish more companies would realize how bullies effect the bottom line. Manufacturing employees can and do retaliate causing quality and attendance issues. The amount of turnover and cost of training can be staggering.


  17. Brad,
    I think that workplace bullying is becoming more and more of a problem between co-workers, even more so than boss to employee bullying, especially with the job market in the state that it’s in. More managers seem to turn a blind eye to the problem between co-workers and think they should just be able to work out their differences when the issue is much deeper than that. The mentality is “you’re lucky to have a job so deal with it.” I also think that employees who are bullied are afraid to go to anyone because adults don’t believe other adults bully each other, that it’s something kids do and, as adults, the parties involved should be able to work things out in a mature manner. I think there is also the fear that the bullied employee will be seen as weak or not able to get along with others or even that the bullied employee themselves will be seen as the troublemaker. It’s a serious issue that needs to be addressed and employees who feel that they truly are being bullied (and not just bossed around or having someone take a bad day out on them – that happens) need to have someone they can go to without ridicule or being told “you’re an adult, go work it out.” Bottom line is that bullying creates a hostile work environment and that’s not healthy or productive for anyone.

  18. i faced the situation in which my co-worker started is very difficult to deal with such ladies.i suppose they are deeply inside frustrated and they pour their frustration on others.


  19. In corporate America, this is an issue. I’ve seen it too many times and continue to see those who do it rise through the ranks. In a lot of ways, it is rewarded. I’d love to see people just work together to further the strategy of any given company, and stop with all of the stress they push onto others. We are headed for serious heat when we just don’t treat each other with respect.

    I also agree that asking someone to do work in a particular way is not bullying. But, when you’ve got people who are attacking employees verbally, let alone physically, that is for sure bullying…a characteristic that is all too often feared and then forgiven.


  20. Unfortunately there’s no incentive for the ones who benefit from a closed system to change its dynamics. The turnover that results in this kind of organization is passed off as unrelated to the bad behavior.


  21. I think the thing I have learned is have more self belief, This way whatever they say or do you will be in better frame of mind to deal with it. I don’t think we believe in our on capabilities as much as we should.

    These folks must be insecure in what they do or feel the need to control anyone in there employment or social group.


  22. I think it’s a huge issue and anticipate that within the next few years it’ll be “the new sexual harassment.” By this I mean that companies are going to be forced to deal with the issue and write policies to protect themselves and lay out ground rules on it. I’ve done a lot of research on the issue, and there’s a lot of information on it already. It’s really easy to say that one should stand up for themselves or that bullying will only continue if you let it, but the reality is that sometimes it’s a lot harder than that. If it were easy to resolve, or had clear-cut boundaries and definitions, it wouldn’t be a problem. Just like sexual harassment.

  23. I think it’s a huge issue and anticipate that within the next few years it’ll be “the new sexual harassment.” By this I mean that companies are going to be forced to deal with the issue and write policies to protect themselves and lay out ground rules on it. I’ve done a lot of research on the issue, and there’s a lot of information on it already. It’s really easy to say that one should stand up for themselves or that bullying will only continue if you let it, but the reality is that sometimes it’s a lot harder than that. If it were easy to resolve, or had clear-cut boundaries and definitions, it wouldn’t be a problem. Just like sexual harassment.

    It’s naive to think that bullying is just a mean boss or even related to a boss/subordinate relationship. Bullying doesn’t have to have anything to do with hierarchy.

  24. Binayak,

    Thanks for the comment. Most people are not able to sperate personal and professional. That kind of stress will impact your life. And it usually has a negative impact on organizations affecting everything from quality of work to turnover.



  25. In some companies it is endemic, top down and insidious. Most people are probably unaware of it, but if you happen to be one of those unfortunates who gets under the skin of the senior bully; whether intentionally or not; you will certainly know about it. You can’t fight it, as generally HR won’t support you, they may even be part of the problem. It is extremely debilitating, hits your self esteem big time, and makes getting out of the front door to the office a daily nightmare.
    My advice to anyone who meets it, is to get out of the situation, rather than battle on in the belief that human nature and truth will come good in the end… probably won’t.


    • Shirley,

      You are right- for many people the best solution is to get out. Unfortunately, for too many people that is not an option. Unless you call going without any income an option.

      As for me, I have been writing articles and a blog of my own for a couple of months, and the topic of toxic work environments has come up. Writiing gives me a healthy outlet for those times when work gets unbearable. Finding an outlet and focusing on taking it to a new level is a great stress relief.


  26. Shirley,

    When the situation is that deeply woven into the organizational fabric I would agree with you. It can eat you up and spit you out. However every situation is different and not all are that extreme. Individuals should look at their situation and make a decision based on their circumstances.



  27. Bullying is an odd scenario as it is easy to assume that only the weak either get bullied or put up with it. I had been in Sales and Consultancy for my whole career when things changed (following the birth of my child). Suddenly I was no longer ‘one of the boys’ and got left off emails, was given false information for meetings as well as receiving detrimental comments about my appearance and private life. If you had asked me if I would put up with it beforehand, I would have laughed. But this was from people I had called friends and I thought I could cope. I became very ill and finally had to leave. But … it was also one of the best things to happen as I found my new strength and created a whole new life for myself doing what I love and with people who appreciate and support. So I would say – speak up, stand up, fight back and move forward – maybe it is a way to re-evaluate. I now coach within organisations who care about managing bullying and also work with people who are/have been bullied and it is very, very common.

    Just one last thought – I do also think that we need to offer support to those accused of bullying who are, in fact, simply direct Managers. Our society appears to allow for words like bullying and victimisation to be used at any time we don’t like the instruction. This is, in a bizarre way, yet another form of bullying!


  28. I’ve experienced bullying. I was a board member and the CEO was bullying the board. Her tactics were to ignore me, twist what I said and did to suit her. It was not a healthy place to work. The staff were also bullied by the CEO. The staff were kept away from the board and the board were put down by the CEO to the staff. The board were also kept from discussing their personal experiences with each other. It was a very troublesome time but when the board received complaints from the staff regarding the CEOs behaviour the board acted, following the policies and legislation to dismiss the CEO. It didn’t end there. The CEO took the Board to the Anti-discrimination commission and industrial relations.

    Bullying is insidious, toxic and causes enormous stress on all involved. Whether bullying is endemic or not I’m unsure but bullying is not productive. Businesses lose money when there’s a bully in the workplace through absenteeism, low productivity, high staff turnover, etc.

    In my experience it’s the head of the organisation who provides the role model for all staff to follow and if they’re bullying then it’s likely to be found throughout the workplace. If they’re respectful and encouraging the workplace is a pleasure to work in. I also think most organisations have a policy on harassment, bullying, sexual harassment but fall down when staff report bullying. It is not followed through for whatever reason and the staff experiencing bullying is left feeling victimised.

  29. Work place bullying is on the increase but how much of that is down to the fact that we are a lot less tolerant of what others say and do. We also have to remember that what one person considers as bullying may be acceptable behaviour to others.

    I have seen co worker bullying this year on a number of occassion but what has been suprising it has been member of a minority (same sex partners) on the majority. It got to the point where this person was eventually dismissed.

    I have to agree with Annie bullying is detrimental to a business and you do see higher levels of absentism among staff who have to work in a team where there is a bully operating.

    Managers have a duty to spot this and take steps early failure to do so not only encorages the bully to continue their bullying but sends a signal out to other employees that their behaviour is acceptable and therefore are less inclinded to report it.

  30. I have worked for several bullying leaders. There are really only two possible responses:

    1. Crush the bully (usually more than once is necessary)
    2. Walk away

    Negotiation and accomodation strategies do not work with true bullies. They merely see this as a sign of weakness, which provides them with the excuse to bully you some more.

    One of the big underlying challenges is that corporations tend to tolerate bullying leaders as long as they are seen to be successful. In the case of one VP that I ended up working for, he was seen as successful by his senior VP, despite the fact that he was toxic, and specialized in destroying teams and replacing team members with his own hand-picked sycophants. The game was up for him once he changed jobs, he was fired from 3 employers in 3 years once they realized how toxic he was. However, he set my career progression back severely in the brief time that I was unfortunate enough to work for him.
    As a victim of high school bullies, I have zero tolerance for bullying in my life. When faced with a workplace bully in a leadership role, I have discovered the hard way that such leaders are usually supported by their leadership (yes, I have heard the cliche rationalization “to make an omelette you have to break a few eggs” more than once as an apologia for bad leadership behaviour).

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