Bullying. For many of us, the word may remind us of painful childhood experiences. But bullying doesn’t necessarily stop when we become adults. In observance of Bullying Prevention Month, we’re sharing information on workplace bullying and what you can do about it.
Trends in workplace bullying
In a 2021 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, nearly half of American adults reported being affected by workplace bullying:
- 30% of American adults reported being bullied at work — an increase from 19% in 2017.
- Another 19% reported witnessing bullying behavior.
50% reported being bullied in meetings. Another 9% were bullied in emails. While every workplace is different, recognizing bullying behaviors is the first step to reducing them.
Bullying is a disruptive behavior
Disruptive behavior is behavior that interferes with the functioning and flow of the workplace. It has a negative impact on the physical or emotional well-being of people in the workplace.
Bullying is one type of disruptive behavior. Disruptive behavior that is less severe than bullying might be inappropriate, disrespectful, or rude. More severe disruptive behaviors include stalking, threats, and violence.
Some forms of bullying might be subtle or go unnoticed at first. Examples of workplace bullying include:
- Withholding or ignoring requests for important information.
- Leaving someone out of communications (including email) or social situations.
- Dismissing a person’s efforts or taking credit for their work.
- Preventing a person from sharing their perspective.
- Creating no-win situations where a person will be embarrassed, humiliated, or fail to meet expectations.
- Blaming, berating, or criticizing a person unfairly.
- Coercion — convincing people to do things they don’t want to do.
- Gaslighting — causing the person being bullied to doubt the reality of their experiences.
The following beliefs are common myths about bullying.
- Myth: “If you’re bullied, you’re weak.” Fact: Bullying in the workplace can happen to anyone, no matter their age, size, or role.
- Myth: “Only men bully.” Fact: Many women have been bullied by another woman.
- Myth: “Bullies work alone.” Fact: When bullying becomes a group activity, it is known as mobbing.
- Myth: “Ignore the bully. The problem will go away.” Fact: If bullying in the workplace isn’t addressed, then it will continue in the future.
- Myth: “It’s not bullying. It’s just tough management.” Fact: Bullying and management have nothing in common.
If you’re concerned about a supervisor’s behavior, stop to consider the differences between a tough boss and a bullying boss:
- Tough: objective, fair, professional. Bully: misuses power. Treats employees inconsistently and unfairly.
- Tough: self-controlled. Bully: has emotional outbursts.
- Tough: has high standards and holds employees accountable. Bully: appears intent to cause pain or personal distress.
- Tough: focused on best interests of the organization. Bully: focused on personal self-interest.
Don’t allow a myth to stop you from taking action against bullying. If you see bullying in the workplace, take it seriously. Here’s how to address bullying behavior.
Know your workplace policies
Most workplaces have policies that describe hostile work environments, harassment, and other behaviors that are inappropriate for the workplace. These policies might also describe reporting options. If you’re not sure where to find these policies, it’s OK to ask someone to point them out for you.
Conduct a self-assessment
Before describing someone else’s behavior as bullying, answer the following questions for yourself:
- Have you exhibited similar behaviors?
- If so, which ones and how often?
- Have you ever received feedback about negative behaviors at work?
- If so, do you have a plan to address those concerns and make things right?
Document the behavior
Be able to provide specific information about the behavior. For each incident, note:
- Date, time, and location.
- Who was present when the behavior happened.
- What was said, volume, and tone of voice.
- Non-verbals — gestures, facial expressions, body language.
- Reactions of yourself and others.
- Whether this behavior has occurred before.
Talk to your supervisor, your supervisor’s supervisor, bargaining unit resource, or HR. Be prepared with your documentation. Be direct, calm, and professional while calling the behavior out.
If you’re not sure what to do, or you’d like support through this process, your EAP is here for you. State and public sector employees who are covered by the Washington State EAP can request help online or by calling 877–313–4455.
Subscribe to the EAP employee newsletter to get articles and updates by email.
The Washington State Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a free, confidential program created to promote the health, safety and well-being of public service employees and their household adult family members. EAP provides counseling and other resources to support well-being, address workplace concerns, and help with legal and financial issues. Reach out to EAP online or call 877–313–4455. To find out if the Washington State EAP serves your agency or organization, contact your supervisor or human resources department.
Links to external websites are provided as a convenience. The Employee Assistance Program and the Department of Enterprise Services do not endorse the content, services, or viewpoints found at these external sites. Information is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the counsel or advice of a qualified health or legal professional. For further help, questions, or referral to community resources for specific problems or personal concerns, contact the EAP or other qualified professional.