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Types of Workplace Bullying

Types of Workplace Bullying



What’s the difference between bullying and a strong management style?


“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, bully”


A strong management style puts the business interests of the organization first by relying on consistency, fairness, responsibility and respect. Effective managers offer objective comments and constructive feedback to motivate their employees.

Managers who bully do so to hide their own inadequacy. They may excuse their bullying behaviour by claiming they are trying to encourage better performance. In fact, bullying causes underperformance (or makes it worse) because it distracts employees from their duties.

Pressure Bullying or Unwitting Bullying

Is where the stress of the moment causes behaviour to deteriorate; the person becomes short-tempered, irritable and may shout or swear at others. Everybody does this from time to time, but when the pressure is removed, behaviour returns to normal, the person recognizes the inappropriateness of their behaviour, makes amends, and may apologize, and – crucially – learns from the experience so that next time the situation arises they are better able to deal with it. This is “normal” behaviour and I do not include pressure bullying in my definition of workplace bullying.


Organizational Bullying

Is a combination of pressure bullying and corporate bullying, and occurs when an organization struggles to adapt to changing markets, reduced income, cuts in budgets, imposed expectations, and other external pressures.


Corporate Bullying

Is where the employer abuses employees with impunity knowing that the law is weak and jobs are scarce, for example:

  • Coercing employees to work 60/70/80 weeks on a regular basis then making life hell for (or dismissing) anyone who objects
  • Dismissing anyone who looks like having a stress breakdown as it’s cheaper (in theUK) to pay the costs of unfair dismissal at Employment Tribunal (eg: 50K maximum, but awards are usually paltry) than risk facing a personal injury claim for stress breakdown (eg 175K as in the John Walker case)
  • Introduces “absence management” to deny employees annual or sick leave to which they are genuinely entitled
  • Regularly snoops and spies on employees, eg by listening in to telephone conversations, using the mystery shopper, contacting customers behind employees backs and asking leading questions, conducting covert video surveillance (perhaps by fellow employees), sending personnel officers or private investigators to an employee’s home to interrogate the employees whilst on sick leave, threatening employees with interrogation the moment they return from sick leave, etc.
  • Deems any employee suffering from stress as weak and inadequate whilst aggressively ignoring and denying the cause of stress (bad management and bullying)·         “Encourages” employees (with promises of promotion and/or threats of disciplinary action) to fabricate complaints about their colleagues
  • Employees are “encouraged” to give up full-time permanent positions in favour of short-term contracts; anyone who resists has their life made hell


Institutional Bullying

Is similar to corporate bullying and arises when bullying becomes entrenched and accepted as part of the culture. People are moved, long-existing contracts are replaced with new short-term contracts on less favorable terms with the accompanying threat of “agree to this or else”, workloads are increased, work schedules are changed, roles are changed, career progression paths are blocked or terminated, etc – and all of this is without consultation.


Client Bullying

Is where employees are bullied by those they serve, eg teachers are bullied (and often assaulted) by pupils and their parents, nurses are bullied by patients and their relatives, social workers are bullied by their clients, and shop/bank/building society staff are bullied by customers. Often the client is claiming their perceived right (eg to better service) in an abusive, derogatory and often physically violent manner. Client bullying can also be employees bullying their clients.


Serial Bullying

Is where the source of all dysfunction can be traced to one individual, who picks on one employee after another and destroys them? This is the most common type of bullying I come across; most of this web site is devoted to describing and defining the serial bully, who exhibits the behavioural characteristics of a socialized psychopath. Most people know at least one person in their life with the profile of the serial bully; most people do not recognise this person as a socialized psychopath, or sociopath. I estimate one person in thirty is either a physically-violent psychopath, who commits criminal acts, or an antisocial whose behaviour is antisocial, or a sociopath who commits mostly non-arrestable offences. For an in-depth insight into serial bullying, click here.


Secondary Bullying

Is mostly unwitting bullying which people start exhibiting when there’s a serial bully in the department. The pressure of trying to deal with a dysfunctional, divisive and aggressive serial bully causes everyone’s behaviour to decline.


Pair Bullying

Is a serial bully with a colleague? Often one does the talking whilst the other watches and listens. Usually it’s the quiet one you need to watch. Usually they are of opposite gender and frequently there’s an affair going on.


Gang Bullying

Is a serial bully with colleagues? Gangs can occur anywhere, but flourish in corporate bullying climates. If the bully is an extrovert, they are likely to be leading from the front; they may also be a shouter and screamer, and thus easily identifiable (and recordable on tape and video-able). If the bully is an introvert, that person will be in the background initiating the mayhem but probably not taking an active part, and may thus be harder to identify. A common tactic of this type of bully is to tell everybody a different story – usually about what others are alleged to have said about that person – and encourage each person to think they are the only one with the correct story. Introvert bullies are the most dangerous bullies.

Half the people in the gang are happy for the opportunity to behave badly; they gain gratification from the feeling of power and control, and enjoy the patronage, protection and reward from the serial bully. The other half of the gang is coerced into joining in, usually through fear of being the next target if they don’t. If anything backfires, one of these coerces will be the scapegoat and sacrificial lamb on whom enraged targets will be encouraged to vent their anger. The serial bully watches from a safe distance. Serial bullies gain a great deal of gratification from encouraging and watching others engage in conflict, especially those who might otherwise pool negative information about them.


Vicarious Bullying

Is where two parties are encouraged to engage in adversarial interaction or conflict.  Similar to gang bullying, although the bully may or may not be directly connected with either of the two parties. One party becomes the bully’s instrument of harassment and is deceived and manipulated into bullying the other party. An example of vicarious bullying is where the serial bully creates conflict between employer and employee, participating occasionally to stoke the conflict, but rarely taking an active part in the conflict themselves.


Regulation Bullying

Is where a serial bully forces their target to comply with rules, regulations, procedures or laws regardless of their appropriateness, applicability or necessity.


Legal Bullying

The bringing of a vexatious legal action to control and punish a person – is one of the nastiest forms of bullying.


Residual Bullying

Is the bullying of all kinds that continues after the serial bully has left. Like recruits like and like promotes like, therefore the serial bully bequeaths a dysfunctional environment to those who are left. This can last for years.


Cyber Bullying

Is the misuse of email systems or Internet forums etc for sending aggressive flame mails. Serial bullies have few communication skills (and often none), thus the impersonal nature of email makes it an ideal tool for causing conflict. Sometimes called Cyberstalking.

In environments where bullying is the norm, most people will eventually either become bullies or become targets. There are few bystanders, as most people will eventually be sucked in. It’s about survival: you either adopt bullying tactics yourself and thus survive by not becoming a target, or you stand up against bullying and refuse to join in, in which case you are bullied, harassed, victimized and scapegoated until your health is so severely impaired that you have a stress breakdown (this is a psychiatric injury, not a mental illness – see health page for details on stress, or the PTSD page for details on psychiatric injury), take ill-health retirement, leave, find yourself unexpectedly selected for redundancy, or are unfairly dismissed.


Hierarchical Bullying, Peer Bullying, Upward Bullying

The majority of cases of workplace bullying reported to the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line and Bully OnLine involve an individual being bullied by their manager, and these account for around 75% of cases. Around a quarter of cases involve bullying and harassment by peers (often with the collusion of a manager either by proactive involvement or by the manager refusing to take action). A small number of cases (around 1-2%) involve the bullying of a manager by a subordinate. Serial bullies like to tap into hierarchical power, but they also generate their own power by simply choosing to bully with impunity and justifying or denying their behaviour with rationalization, manipulation, deception or lying.

In a case of bullying of a manager by a subordinate, it’s my view that as bullying is a form of violence (at the psychological and emotional lever rather than the physical) it’s the responsibility of the employer, not the individual manager, to deal with violence at work.


Psychological Harassment/ Bullying

Is only a law inQuebecat this present time. However, it should be recognized as a law throughoutCanada, theUnited Statesand eventually throughout the world. (Read more at Workplace Bullying and the Law section of this website)

Psychological harassment at work is vexatious behaviour in the form of repeated conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures:

•       that are hostile or unwanted

•       that affect the employee’s dignity or psychological or physical integrity

•       that make the work environment harmful.



•       To establish that the case actually involves psychological harassment, it is necessary to prove the presence of all of the elements of the definition:

Vexatious behaviour

•       This behaviour is humiliating, offensive or abusive for the person on the receiving end. It injures the person’s self-esteem and causes him anguish. It exceeds what a reasonable person considers appropriate within the context of his work.

Repetitive in nature

•       Considered on its own, a verbal comment, a gesture or a behaviour may seem innocent. It is the accumulation or all of these behaviours which may become harassment.

Verbal comments, gestures or behaviours that are hostile or unwanted

•       The comments, gestures or behaviours in question must be considered hostile or unwanted. If they are sexual in nature, they could be considered harassment even if the victim did not clearly express his refusal.

Affect the person’s dignity or integrity

•       Psychological harassment makes the work environment harmful for the victim. The harassed person may, for example, be isolated from his colleagues due to the hostile verbal comments, gestures or behaviours towards him or concerning him.

Harmful work environment

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