Workplace bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of targets by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:
- Verbal abuse
- Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating
- Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done.
Workplace bullying is often subtle. It is:
- Driven by perpetrators’ need to control the targeted individual(s)
- Initiated by bullies who choose targets, timing, place, and methods
- Escalated to involve others who side with the bully, either voluntarily through coercion.
- Undermining of legitimate business interests when bullies’ personal agendas take precedence over work itself
- Domestic violence at work where the abuser is on the payroll.
A 2014 national survey by Zogby International and the Workplace Bullying Institute found that:
- 27% of workers have experienced workplace bullying
- 72% of employers who received complaints about workplace bullying either ignored the problem or made it worse
- 56% of workplace bullies are supervisors
Roughly 27% of workers — more than one million in Massachusetts — will experience workplace bullying during their work lives.
Bullies can be managers, supervisors, co-workers, or clients. The bully’s target is usually a capable, dedicated person. 80% of targets are women.
Common bullying behaviors
- False accusations of mistakes and errors
- Yelling, shouting, and screaming
- Exclusion and “the silent treatment”
- Withholding resources and information necessary to the job
- Behind-the-back sabotage and defamation
- Use of put-downs, insults, and excessively harsh criticism
- Unreasonably heavy work demands
- Spreading rumors and gossip
- Making offensive jokes or comments, verbally or in writing
- Discounting achievements and stealing credit for ideas or work
- Disciplining or threatening job loss without reason
- Taking away work or responsibility without cause
- Blocking requests for training, leave or promotion
- Pestering, spying, stalking, or tampering with personal belongings and equipment
What bullying is not
- Enforcing workplace policies and procedures
- Evaluating or measuring performance
- Providing constructive feedback
- Denying training or leave requests with good reason
- Discussing disciplinary action in private
- Dismissing, suspending, demoting, or reprimanding with just cause
Why bullies bully
- Sideline someone they feel is a threat (the target)
- Further their own agenda at the expense of others
- Deny responsibility for their own behavior
- Mask their lack of confidence and low self-esteem
Types of harm from which targets suffer
- Stress disorders of all types, including anxiety
- Shock, anger, frustration, and helplessness
- Clinical depression or suicidal thoughts
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Loss of sleep
- Loss of focus, confidence, morale, and productivity
- Eating too much or too little
- Stomach pain
- Impaired immune systems
- Symptoms consistent with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Destructive impact on family and personal relationships
How you can help
So when will legislators say enough is enough?
We’ll change the rules when enough of us take a stand. School bullying legislation sat on desks until the tragic suicide of Phoebe Prince forced attention on the issue. Our goal is to help legislators understand that workplace bullying can and does cause great workers to take their lives. Read about three highly competent, ethical workers who took their lives from workplace bullying.
Share your stories
If you know of an employee who committed suicide from workplace bullying, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Change the rules
If you live in Massachusetts, write to your legislators and demand that employers be held accountable for workplace bullying through legislation.
If you live outside Massachusetts, find out how to help end workplace bullying in your state.