The number of people who have no support system from workplace bullying

Frightened man under  the desk in the office

Workplace bullying targets revealed their greatest supporters are family members (45 percent) in a 2011 Workplace Bullying Institute poll. But what’s tragic is the number that came next: 30 percent of respondents said they had NO ONE to support them through their workplace bullying experience. Not a coworker. Not a friend outside work. Not a therapist. Not a spiritual leader. No one.

WBI asserts that this category could be “a healthy reliance, an introspective journey, one characterized by strength and deliberate purpose. But this counters the vast anecdotal record of targets who call WBI for help and who overestimate their power to rectify their employer-generated problem…. [Many] targets are involuntarily left alone to deal with the bullying situation that resulted from the combination of efforts by several do-nothing, intervention-averse people. They may have asked for help and been denied. Hence, they were isolated.”

If roughly 1 in 3 people has been bullied at work, and of those people, about 1 in 3 have no support system in their workplace bullying experience, that means that approximately 1 in 9 people are suffering or have suffered in silence from workplace bullying. That’s nearly 750,000 in Massachusetts alone and more than the population of Boston who due to workplace bullying also have a greater risk for homelessness and suicide. And in Massachusetts, workplace bullying is perfectly legal.

That’s why it’s vital to spread the word about what workplace bullying is and why it needs to stop. No one needs to suffer in isolation.

There’s one group most likely to get bullied at work

Sad businesswoman

If we were to create a workplace bullying target persona, she would be a 42-year old, college-educated, full-time, non-supervisory, non-union worker in healthcare, education, or the government, according to a 2013 Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) poll.

Workplace bullying targets are most often motivated to help others. “They are prosocial, the do gooders. People entering those fields want to heal, help, teach, develop impressionable minds, and see the good in others. While focused on the work, with their backs figuratively turned to the politics and abusers in the workplace, they bring a vulnerability to attack. And like all targets, they only seek to be left alone to do the work they are paid to accomplish,” says WBI. And this mindset generally falls along gender and industry lines.

A WBI poll one year later verifies these claims. Bullied targets and witnesses said that those targeted with abusive mistreatment were often kind, giving, altruistic, agreeable, and cooperative. Though they also considered targets not likely to defend themselves and vulnerable (a strength often seen as a weakness in our patriarchal culture), it’s important to note targets are cooperators, not competitors. And collaborative work environments are proven to be not just healthier for employees but also for organizations’ bottom lines.

Nursing and teaching: rampant with bullying
What’s more dangerous is that in the nursing and teaching professions, bullying has become “so routine that it’s normalized and no longer shocks the profession,” says WBI, despite the attention given to student bullying. “Adults are physically modeling the same acts they are verbally deploring. Actions speak louder than words. A teacher humiliated in front of students is robbed of her or his moral authority to manage the classroom effectively. And parents learn which teachers they can safely attack and demoralize by following the lead of administrators.”

Government: the third-ranked industry
Poorly trained supervisors are the major problem in this sector. “Managers lacking the interpersonal skills of listening, coaching, effectively training, and caring for workers tend to supervise aggressively to mask their incompetence. Governments, with their starved budgets, first cut training to save. Unfortunately, the consequence is to inflict health-harming mistreatment on the public sector workforce,” says WBI.

Workplace bullying targets don’t always fit this mold
Workplace bullying targets aren’t only educated, non-political, altruistic women in their 40s. Respondents came from various walks of life: men, white collar workers, blue collar workers, non-educated, supervisors, and managers. The only common trait among targets is that their competence poses a threat to insecure perpetrators.

Most workplace bullying targets say politics is a workplace. Politicians should have the same expectations for respect as everyone else. Period.


“It’s common knowledge that politics in America are quite polarized. No longer do politicians pretend to want to solve social problems with social policy. Interactions between politicians are characterized by ad hominem attacks. Politicians seem to mimic the personalized nature of bullying,” says the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) in its 2014 instant poll. No truer are these words than with the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath.

Some oppose WBI’s comparisons, asserting that WBI should stick to workplace bullying and stay out of politics. But is politics really a different field of employment? When NFL player Jonathan Martin called his professional football team an “abusive work environment,” was the NFL exempt from responsibility for employee harm, even though the NFL itself defined its locker room as a workplace where discrimination laws apply?

When the WBI asked 307 bullied targets and witnesses if bullying by politicians of politicians or citizens is as harmful as workplace bullying, 87 percent of respondents said yes, always. In other words, “the community of bullied targets does not grant exemptions easily…. Bullying and abuse are the same regardless of venue,” says the WBI, even though some say that “politics is a special type of workplace, immune from social codes and restrictions that apply to everyone else.

Why employees sue (hint: it’s not about the money)

Mobbing at work

Just as doctors without good bedside manners are more likely to get sued, so are employers. In his article “The Top 5 Reasons Why Employees Sue Their Boss,” Plaintiff Employment Lawyer Branigan Robertson reveals that mistreatment — not money — is the number one motivator for employees suing their employers. It’s mounting evidence that not caring about employees as human beings costs employers.

Here are the top five reasons why employees sue their employers according to Robertson:

1.  They feel they were treated like garbage.

To have dignity, people need to believe they’re more than a disposable company resource. “Fired employees don’t call employment lawyers like me because the law was broken. Regular folks have no clue whether the law was broken. They call me because they feel dehumanized,” explains Robertson. “This is by far the No. 1 reason people get on Google and search for a lawyer. They are emotionally upset about how their boss treated, demoted, or fired them.”

Solution: Employers should treat their employees with respect if they want to avoid a lawsuit. Pretty simple.

2. They were fired after engaging in protected activity.

Robertson gets several calls a week that go something like this. Him – “Why did you get fired?” Employee – “They didn’t give me a reason, but I complained the week before about sexual harassment.” Robertson says that employment lawyers call this problem temporal proximity. In other words, “the time between the protected activity and adverse employment action are so close together that timing alone can be an inference of discrimination. This becomes an especially big red flag when the employee was never written-up or reprimanded before she complained.”

Solution: Employers should promptly write-up underperforming employees.

3. Their manager was allowed to behave badly.

How many rogue managers does it take to infect an otherwise good company? Just one. Sexual harassment, wrongful termination, failure to pay for overtime: pick your poison. “In my experience, nine times out of 10, these rogue managers have been on the company’s radar before and the company failed to adequately supervise, reprimand, or fire them,” says Robertson. Juries don’t like it when they hear a company knew about the rogue behavior but did nothing, he adds.

Solution: Employers should supervise and reprimand managers for inappropriate behavior.

4. Owner greed is out of control.

“When an owner of a company drives a Ferrari and simultaneously tells a valued employee that the company ‘can’t afford’ to give her a raise from $8 an hour to $8.15 an hour, she is going to call a lawyer if she gets fired,” explains Robertson.

Solution: Employers should stop over-indulging and hogging the money at the expense of giving their employees fair and livable wages. It’s called being a decent human being.

5. Rules aren’t fairly enforced.

“When one employee is allowed to break the rules because he’s friends with the HR guy or favored for another reason, but another is disciplined for breaking the same rules, the reprimanded person almost always thinks the law is being broken,” says Robertson.

Solution: Employers should enforce rules fairly.


“If companies simply treat their employees with respect, enforce the rules fairly, fire rogue managers, and use some common sense, people are far less likely to pick up the phone and call an employment lawyer like me,” explains Robertson. In a nutshell, Robertson’s asking employers to do their jobs and treat employees like human beings if they want to stay in business.

Workplace bullying is stealing. Stop tolerating it.


“Someone in your office walks out every day with a laptop under his coat. He fences them down the street and keeps the money. After he’s discovered, how long should he keep his job? What if he’s a really hard worker? Perhaps you give him a warning, but when he’s discovered stealing again a week from now, then what? Bullying costs far more than laptop theft does,” says Marketing Guru Seth Godin in his blog post “Bullying is theft.”

Bullying is “intentionally using power to cause physical or emotional distress with the purpose of dominating the other person,” says Godin. “The bully works to marginalize people. In an organizational setting, the bully chooses not to engage in conversation or discussion or to use legitimate authority or suasion and depends instead on pressure in the moment to demean and disrespect someone else — by undermining not just their ideas but their very presence and legitimacy.”

Most bullies aren’t sociopaths, immune to correction. They are opportunists, using the tools that have often worked for them in the past.

And bullying pushes out the best employees or at least stifles their creativity and productivity. Simply put: great employees slowly stop caring. When the best employees stop doing their best, the organization takes a hit in lost ideas, connection, and insights.

“Do they [senior managers] understand that tolerating and excusing bullying behavior is precisely what permits it to flourish?” asks Godin. “If so, the next steps are painful and difficult but quite direct. Bullies can’t work here.”

You either:

  • Work in a supportive, collaborative work environment, free of bullies.
  • Support bullies by tolerating them as subordinates. Start dishing out warnings and performance improvement plans.
  • Should consider moving on if you’re part of an organization where bullies thrive. Culture is top-down. It will not change unless top-level management changes.

“Just as laptop theft drops when our tolerance of it disappears, so does bullying,” explains Godin. “Most bullies aren’t sociopaths, immune to correction. They are opportunists, using the tools that have often worked for them in the past.”

New book on how erasing bullies’ hate messages can help overcome shame and fear


Bullies don’t hurt others only through name calling, eye rolling, and gossip. They also abuse by teaching their targets that the next time they excel, they’ll pay a price, causing a downward spiral of shame and isolation in their targets.

Author and motivator Ty Weeks hopes to teach other targets how to unlearn bullies’ messages through her upcoming book, The Bully Blocker. “Bullying experiences taught me that praise, promotion, and excellence only brought negative results from others,” said Weeks on what motivated her to write her book. “I had to release associating doing well with punishment. After jumping comfort zone hurdles, I left behind stifling fear of success.”

In her book, Weeks provides a spiritual process to overcoming the negative hurdles and belief systems we can learn as bullying targets. Weeks believes the value of a person is not based on what a bully dictates.

When she refers to bullying, Weeks isn’t talking about just a bad day. She means ongoing abuse. Workplace bullying alone affects roughly 27 percent of workers according to the Workplace Bullying Institute. “There’s a difference between workplace bullies and a tough co-worker or boss,” adds Weeks. “Working with tough people is a way of life. Thick skin is required. The way tough bosses and co-workers behave is not ill-intended or malicious. Most of the time, they have your best interests at heart and are tough because they see the best in you and strive to bring that out. But bullying is malicious, health-harming behavior.”

Unraveling her own bullying wasn’t Weeks’ only motivation for writing the book. Weeks also doesn’t want other targets and witnesses of bullying to feel alone while deciphering and letting go of their bullies’ messages. “I felt alone going through my experiences. I don’t want anyone else to feel alone going through theirs. I want to encourage others to learn how to erase hate messages as part of overcoming the shame and fear.”

Ultimately, after experiencing workplace, cyber, and even church bullying, Weeks believes bullying is a learned behavior. “I believe that most bullies were bullied and/or abused in one way, shape, or form in their youth. Bullying is learned. We’re not born with the behavior. It’s an example of how bullies and abusers learned to execute authority.”

Weeks will announce the publication date of her book.

Why we need to focus on the bullies, not the bullied

Woman yelling into a bullhorn on an urban street

Simply put, to end workplace bullying, we focus on the actual root of the problem: the bullies. Why? We keep the focus on the bullies as the problem — not how targets react or what personality traits might be flawed (especially since it’s the strengths of the target that puts him or her at risk).

Why bullies bully

Sociopaths can’t empathize (put themselves in others’ shoes) because they’re so completely cut off from their own emotions — particularly fear, hurt, and vulnerability, which they see as a shameful weakness.
“If you can’t feel your own emotions, you can’t resonate and empathize with the emotions of other people,” says Joseph Burgo, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and author of The Narcissist You Know: Defending Yourself Against Extreme Narcissists in an All-About-Me World.

More on why a bully bullies: