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Recognizing Workplace Bullying for the Worker

Recognizing Workplace Bullying for the Worker


Bullying and harassment can continue unchecked because people often don’t want to talk about it. Bullies come in all shapes and sizes; they can be men or women, managers, supervisors or other workers. Bullies can harass one person or a group of people.

We have included a checklist to stop the workplace bully. What you should do:

  • Identify the bully or bullies – Make sure you know exactly who is doing the bullying. Is there a ringleader? Who has the power?
  • Keep records – Keep a diary of bullying incidents, when and where it happened, who was responsible and how you felt
  • Talk about it – Discuss the problem with other workers, health and safety representatives and union officials.
  • Do not retaliate – Don’t become a bully yourself or use physical violence – you may be seen as no better than the bullies themselves
  • Stay where you are – Don’t resign or seek a transfer – this would be letting the bully win
  • Make a formal complaint – A formal complaint should be in writing and you need to keep a copy. Make sure your complaint shows a consistent pattern of mistreatment and that you use the correct procedure (get help if you are not sure).

Who is a Workplace Bully

Adult bullies, like their schoolyard counterparts, tend to be insecure people with poor or non-existent social skills and little empathy. They turn this insecurity outwards, finding satisfaction in their ability to attack and diminish the capable people around them.

A workplace bully subjects the target to unjustified criticism and trivial fault-finding. In addition, he or she humiliates the target, especially in front of others, and ignores, overrules, isolates and excludes the target. If the bully is the target’s superior, he or she may: set the target up for failure by setting unrealistic goals or deadlines, or denying necessary information and resources; either overload the target with work or take all work away (sometimes replacing proper work with demeaning jobs); or increase responsibility while removing authority. Regardless of specific tactics, the intimidation is driven by the bully’s need to control others.

Bullying is obsessive and compulsive; the serial bully has to have someone to bully and appears to be unable to survive without a current target. A workplace bully is a person who:

Abdicates and denies responsibility for their behaviour and its consequences (abdication and denial are common features of bullying)

Does not want to know of any other way of behaving

Has never learnt to accept responsibility for their behaviour

Is unable and unwilling to recognise the effect of their behaviour on others

Is unwilling to recognise that there could be better ways of behaving.

Wants to enjoy the benefits of living in the adult world, but who is unable and unwilling to accept the responsibilities that are a prerequisite for being part of the adult world.

Despite the facade that such people put up, bullies have low self-confidence and low self-esteem, and thus feel insecure. Low self-esteem is a factor highlighted by all studies of bullying. Because such people are inadequate and unable to fulfill the duties and obligations of their position (but have no hesitation in accepting salary), they fear being revealed. This fear of exposure often borders on paranoia.


Poor Leadership, Inept Managers


The majority of bullies (72%) are bosses…

  • Bullies derive most of their support from…HR. It’s a club, a clique that circles the wagons in defense when one of their own is accused.
  • Some executives command bullies to target particular employees. Bullies are simply good soldiers following orders in a blind fashion.
  • Supervisory training is nearly nonexistent. No budget. No time. Few good skills taught. OJT transmits bad habits.
  • Executives blame the problem on a “few bad apples,” deflecting blame for systemic causes and denying responsibility for systemic cures.

Bullies are people who have not learned the lesson of consequences, ie that if they behave well there are good consequences (reward), but if they behave badly there are bad consequences (restriction, sanction, punishment, etc). Since childhood, bullies have learnt that they can avoid the unpleasant consequences of bad behaviour through the instinctive response of denial, blame, and feigning victimhood.

Bullies are seething with resentment, bitterness, hatred and anger, and often have wide-ranging prejudices as a vehicle for dumping their anger onto others. Bullies are driven by jealousy and envy. Rejection (which cannot be assuaged) is another powerful motivator of bullying.


Tactics of a Workplace Serial Bully Boss


Some bully bosses have no shame and make no effort to hide their bullying behaviours.

  • These are the screamers, ‘ranters’ and ‘ravers’. They may have tantrums; throw things, pound on desks and fire subordinates on a whim. Often they remain in their position because there is no one in a higher position in which to take them down. These are the CEOs of both small and large companies or owners of small businesses. A frequent example is a physician’s or a dentist’s practice in which the doctor bullies his receptionists, nurses, billing clerks, and even the cleaning crew. Most people would agree that people who behave this way are “bullies”.
  • Then there is another type of bully boss which most people would not even perceive as a bully. The “closet” bully boss is actually much more prevalent and more dangerous than the ‘ranters’ or ‘ravers’ described above. This type of bully boss is very cleaver in their ability to hide their bullying behaviours and to manipulate the perception of bystanders against the “target”. Most bullies possess excellent emotional intelligence. The thing that needs to be kept in mind is that true “psycho bullies” are motivated in ways that normal people do not understand. Bullies use their emotional intelligence to cause conflict intentionally. They are not interested in building positive relationships, only ones they can manipulate. Much of their bullying behaviour is premeditated. They do not possess empathy.
  • Closet bully bosses are often also “serial bullies” who choose one target at a time. One study showed that after successfully eliminating a target, they chose another target within two weeks. These bully bosses are capable of behaving normally towards all other subordinates and will even behave normally towards the target, whenever there are witnesses. This method serves the bully boss well, making it difficult for others to believe a target. Often, only the bully boss and the target know the true nature of the bully.
  • Simply stated, “targets” are good at their jobs and therefore cannot be taken down based on poor job performance. Therefore bullies rely on character assassination, twisted, half or outright lies, rumours and innuendo to subjugate or eliminate their target. Read my article “proud to be a target” to understand how bullies choose their targets.
  • At the beginning of a bullying campaign the target may actually feel favoured by the bully boss. The bully boss often befriends their target at first. The target begins to trust the bully boss and may share information about their weaknesses that the bully boss then uses against the target. After the bully boss gains useful information about the target, the bully may try a few “pass-by nibbles” (read the article about pass-by nibbles, on this blog) to test the targets reaction. Then a full blown bullying campaign begins.

Other obvious bullying behaviours:

  • Constantly undervaluing effort
  • Freezing out, ignoring or excluding
  • Persistent criticism
  • Personal insults and name-calling
  • Public humiliation
  • Spreading malicious rumours

Other less obvious bullying behaviours

  • Blocking applications for leave, promotion
  • Constantly changing work guidelines
  • Deliberately sabotaging or impeding work performance
  • Instigating complaints from others to make individual appear incompetent
  • Over-monitoring, especially with malicious intent
  • Refusing to delegate
  • Removing areas of responsibility
  • Setting up individuals to fail – eg. impossible deadlines
  • Using lengthy memos to make wild and inaccurate accusations
  • Withholding necessary information

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