Signs of Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying is a serious phenomenon occurring in offices and on jobsites across the world. In this lesson, you’ll learn more about what constitutes workplace bullying and some of the signs of bullying behavior.

Bullying (Not) on the Playground

We probably all remember that one kid who got picked on during recess on the playground. Maybe he was the last one picked for kickball, or perhaps she was shunned to the swing set while the rest of the girls her age clustered in a group making plans for a slumber party.

If we fast-forward a couple dozen years, the act of bullying in many circles has not disappeared. Unfortunately, it has just taken new and varied forms in social settings, churches, and workplaces across the country. Statistics from the Workplace Bullying Institute show that one in four employees is impacted by workplace bullying. Let’s take a look at the signs – some overt and some subtle – of bullying in the workplace.

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Signs of Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying, as defined by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), is ‘repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators.’ This type of abusive conduct comes in one of the following forms:

  • Threats or intimidation
  • Sabotaging or interfering in work
  • Offensive conduct or behaviors, including nonverbal
  • Verbal abuse

Workplace bullying stems from a need for the perpetrator to have control. The perpetrator chooses his or her targets and either commits bullying acts against them or withholds resources the victim needs. The WBI likens it to domestic violence in the workplace, with an abuser who’s being paid by the company.

Nearly 30 percent of American workers have been bullied at work, according to a WBI survey. Furthermore, a full 75 percent of American workers admit that workplace bullying is a real occurrence happening on the job site.

Domestic abuse, which often manifests itself in the form of bruises and scars, can sometimes be easily spotted, but how do you spot workplace bullying? Let’s take a closer look at some types of workplace bullying, which can be overt or subtler.

Overt Types of Bullying

Here are some overt types of bullying. How many of these do you recognize?

  1. Aggressive behaviors, such as yelling or slamming a hand on the desk or wall
  2. Publicly mocking, humiliating or embarrassing a co-worker
  3. Threats of all kinds, including unwarranted discipline/punishment, termination, or violence
  4. Constant, unwarranted criticism
  5. Committing intrusive acts such as disturbing someone’s belongings or spying
  6. Retaliation against an employee, including revengeful behaviors
  7. Spreading rumors or gossip about an employee
  8. Coercing an employee into an action they would not morally or ethically participate in
  9. Subjecting employees to intense mood swings
  10. Campaigning against another employee to prevent advancement or remove them from their job

Subtle Types of Bullying

Here are some forms of bullying that are subtler. As a result, they can be harder to spot in the workplace.

  1. Belittling co-workers’ opinions or work products
  2. Deceitful conduct, such as lying about a co-worker to a manager
  3. Impossible expectations or frequently changing job requirements
  4. Breeding competition among employees that pits them against each other in hopes of creating conflict
  5. Intimidation through threats or distressing communication
  6. Ignoring or excluding certain members of the team
  7. Defending behaviors or rationalizing actions
  8. Making an employee feel guilty or inadequate
  9. Removing responsibilities or duties without explanation or cause
  10. Taking credit for work performed by other people without giving appropriate credit

Effects of Workplace Bullying

Whether obvious or subtle, the effects of workplace bullying are no joke. These symptoms can manifest themselves physically, emotionally, mentally, or psychologically inside or outside of the office. Symptoms of a distressing workplace may rear their ugly head when you’re at home, and they may include:

  • Feelings of sickness or physical ailments, such as wanting to throw up, having an elevated blood pressure, or experiencing unexplained health problems
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities with friends and family
  • Obsessing about work when you’re not there

Also, they may manifest themselves when you’re at work in the following ways:

  • Feelings of agitation or anxiety surround your work and permeate your day.
  • Co-workers have stopped talking to you or working with you.
  • The human resources department fails to address your concerns; or when confronted, the perpetrator accuses you of harassment.
  • Reasonable requests are denied with no explanation.
  • Work productivity suffers due to continual bullying.
  • Sick days or vacation days are used up just to get a break.

Lesson Summary

As we saw in this lesson, workplace bullying creates an atmosphere of physical, emotional, and psychological distress for victims and the employees subjected to those behaviors. Bullying on the job can create feelings of frustration, inadequacy, anger, and poor job performance. Signs of bullying can be overt or obvious, such as acting out aggressively (either verbally or physically), publicly mocking, or criticizing an employee. Bullying can also be subtler and thus more difficult to spot; examples can range from ignoring or intimidating employees, belittling their work, or taking credit where credit is not due.


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