Anti-bullying Week: Bullies at Workplace and How to Deal with them

Anti-bullying Week: Bullies at Workplace and How to Deal with them

    This week is the Anti-bullying week! We are talking about the definition of bullying, workplace bullying, how to recognize it and how to deal with it. 

    When thinking of bullying, most think of school time and kids bullying each other. Unfortunately, this behavior does not always stop at this age and some people are bullied throughout their adult life as well. The workplace becomes the school for adults and the mean kids transform into aggressive colleagues. Talking about bullying is crucial as this serious problem can lead to severe consequences which can include anxiety, emotional distress, depression, and in the worst cases, it can even be a factor in self-harm or suicide.

    Bullying is much more than name-calling 

    What actually is bullying? The National Bullying Helpline defines bullying as ‘offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behavior, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient’. 

    The following behavior is considered bullying behavior:

    Verbal bullying: saying or writing mean things

    Teasing, inappropriate sexual comments, threatening to cause harm, name-calling, taunting

    Social/relational bullying: hurting someone’s reputation or relationships

    Leaving someone out on purpose, spreading rumors about someone, embarrassing someone in public

    Physical bullying: hurting a person’s body or possessions.


    Spitting, Tripping/pushing, Taking or breaking someone’s things, making mean or rude hand gestures

    At the workplace, the types of bullying which are most occurrent are personal attacks as yelling, rumors, threats as well as manipulation tactics including isolation, sabotage, micromanagement, and unrealistic deadlines. However, as the line between bullying and tough behavior is very thin, you should always be cautious with accusing someone of being a bully. 


    In order to consider a specific behavior as bullying, keep in mind the two factors which are usually present: the imbalance of power, and repetition. The bully uses powers such as physical superiority, power position, or popularity to control or harm other people. Bullying behavior is mostly of repetitive form or has the potential for being repeated in smaller incidents, which might seem minor to the bully but affect greatly the victim. Find the types of bullies here!

    To be fully knowledgeable about bullying, you should know the following: 

    We often confuse bullying with harassment, and although these two terms can be mentioned together, there is a present distinction. Harassment is ‘bullying behavior directed at a protected class, the latter including race, color, religion, sex, disability, and national origin’. 

    Bullying is not limited to playgrounds anymore 

    Bullying at work is often called the ‘silent problem’, due to ignorance of leaders and lack of reaction of other employees. Kids who were bullying weaker ones often grow up to become adult bullies, who often use aggressive behavior to climb the corporate ladder and thus be able to further impose their control. Furthermore, with digital technology as a weapon, bullying often further develops in the form of cyberbullying, the victim receiving bullying content through emails and social media 

    It can be difficult to get the right statistics of how many people are bullied at a workplace. A study conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute of America found that 27% of respondents were victims of workplace bullying

    Furthermore, a high number of 60% were affected by it in some sort of way.  In most of the cases, the bullies were in leadership positions, or positions of influence, which, unfortunately, makes the issue a taboo topic. 

    For all the lawyers out there: unfortunately, the legal workplace is usually the most common place for bullies. Due to the legal work and litigation involved, this environment often attracts bullying personalities. Check specific information on how to cope with it here.

    Why me? 

    If I were to ask you if you ever pretended not to notice some sort of bullying, what would you say? It is difficult to admit, but most of us have witnessed at least one kind of bullying and have decided not to act. There are several reasons for it and one of them is social pressure. Humans have the innate need to belong to a group, and if the group does not react to bullying, there is still a small chance that one individual will raise their voice and point out to the obvious bullying. The next reason might also be that we are not close to the person who is being bullied, and therefore do not want, or feel the need, to interfere in the bullying. Next time when this occurs, ask yourself: does this person have anyone to protect them? Maybe not, and that is why you should always react. 

    A lot of research has been conducted to find out whether specific people are more prone to be targeted by bullies. Results have shown that some features do have an impact and make specific people the unconscious target of bullies.  Interestingly enough, children who are bullied and employees do share several characteristics.

    From the shy, hard-working kid, often referred to as the ‘nerd’, the profile of the bullied is still similar. Adult bullies at the workplace still tend to target people who are:

    1)More competitive and highly skilled: the bullies focus on employees who are particularly skilled and who are seen as competition. The bully does not know how to deal with it and often starts abusing the person.

    2) Introvert and different:  People who are introverts are more easily targeted as they are less likely going to be protected by other employees.  Being more socially isolated makes them an easier target for the bully, especially because they are less likely to complain to other people. Bullies focus on people who stand out of the group, either physically, or by behavior, as it is more difficult for them to fight back

    3)You are nice: trying to get along with everyone and being nice can make bullies jealous and they can target this group of people. Studies show that nice people are less likely to fight back and often ask themselves ‘What have I done?” to be bullied. Of course, these characteristics might not necessarily mean you will/won’t be bullied.

    To read more about how not to be the target of bullies, check this article: 'How not to be the target of a workplace bully'

    What to do? 

    The way you should react to bullying depends on a lot of factors, but experts suggest several things. Bullying can get more intense each day; therefore it is very important to react immediately once you notice it. As the bully wants to hurt you and is looking for your reaction, the best would be to stay calm and not show emotions. In this way, you will show this behavior is not affecting you. If you are being bullied and are too afraid to immediately talk about it with others, do take notes. Document who the bully is, what did he do or say, if anyone heard it, saw it or reacted to it. This will help you keep track and can be used as evidence against the bully (do not lose the notes). Depending on the situation and how comfortable you feel, you can reply to the bully’s comment. However, as bullying is a serious issue, the best advice would be talking to someone from the HR who might have a formal process for dealing with bullies.  Check out these useful articles on dealing with bullies:

    5 Common Workplace Bullies (And How To Deal With Them)

    What NOT to Do When Being Bullied at Work

    How to Stop Workplace Bullies In Their Tracks

    Different associations provide further education and help regarding bullying. Check them here:

    Stop Bullying

    International Association on Workplace Bullying and Harassment 

    Other Anti-Bullying Organisations

    Now that you are equipped with figures and facts, you are more aware of this growing issue and will help fight it. What are your thoughts about the topic? Do you have any experience or other suggestions on dealing with bullies?

    Let us know in the comments below!


     The Fashion Potluck Team


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