Recognizing Workplace Bullying

Recently a reader responded to a blog post asking for some clear cut examples of workplace bullying. Resourceful HR takes our readers’ comments seriously and always tries to address questions and concerns. We used the opportunity for the team to discuss our experiences as HR professionals with workplace bullying and truth be told, we had difficulty coming up with definitive examples of a bullying boss.

So why, you may ask, is it hard for HR professionals to write examples of workplace bullying? Primarily because what is bullying within one setting is unfortunately, a cultural norm in another. This is what makes workplace bullying such a challenging situation for organizations to deal with. There is no clear cut definition. A quick Google search finds different definitions from many different resources. There are some common terms used in defining and discussing workplace bullying which involves repetition over a duration of time. Common characteristics include:

  • hostile communication and behavior
  • verbal abuse
  • offensive conduct and behavior (including non verbal) that is threatening, humiliating, intimidating

It is unacceptable for anyone to feel uncomfortable in the workplace and bullying-type conduct should not be permitted. Bullying often leads to health issues for employees and can frequently induce stress that leads to other mental and physical ailments. This of course, leads to increased time away from work or a decline in productivity. While workplace bullying can be based on perception, the health and productivity consequences are very real.  When an employee notifies their employer that they’ve been bullied, a comprehensive investigation should be conducted. There are two sides to every story. All bullying needs to be looked at on a case by case basis and taken seriously.

Employees feeling bullied by a boss or co-worker will feel threatened by the actions of the bully and unable to defend themselves against the negative recurring actions. Typically one will see bullying through the following activities:

  • Public humiliation including belittling opinions
  • Accusations regarding lack of effort
  • Intimidation, name calling, or insults
  • Prevention of access to opportunities or necessary information to complete work
  • Undue pressure with impossible deadlines
  • Shifting goals without communicating the change
  • Setting up the employee to fail

Mattie B. was correct in stating that HR is there “to protect the company from acting in such a way as to bring on litigation from breaking labor laws.” Much of the human resources function is about risk mitigation and that does involve protecting employees and the employers. Each employer has the ability to determine the level of risk they are willing to take. Unfortunately workplace bullying is not illegal. Therefore the risk is not as obvious to an employer as one might think. There are some great organizations that will listen and respond to workplace bullying issues, but there are also those that will turn a blind eye. We don’t live in a utopian society and we could all find ourselves in an organization that has a deaf ear at some point.

All of us at Resourceful HR agree that if an employee is feeling bullied by a boss or co-worker, they should bring it up with HR and ask HR specifically if they will address the situation. In some cases, the employee may have to trust that HR and the organization is addressing the issue; they just may not be in a position to share how.

If you are feeling bullied at work, document your experiences, address them with the bully and/or other key parties within the organization and persist in stating your case on a factual and business level. If all else fails, we encourage you to leave the organization. Life is too short to put up with the actions of a bully boss and a non-responsive employer.

If you want to get involved, there is a push  across many states to make workplace bullying illegal. Learn more at:

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