Don’t Put Up With Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying, just like childhood bullying, is when individuals or groups intentionally humiliate another person. At school, the victim is another student. At work, it is another employee.

A 2006 study of workplace bullying* identified the following behaviors as bullying:

  • Threat to professional status: an unwarranted or invalid criticism and blame without factual justification.
  • Threat to personal standing: being sworn at, shouted out, or humiliated.
  • Isolation: preventing access to opportunities, withholding necessary information, or using silent treatment to “ice out” and separate the victim from others.
  • Overwork: being given unrealistic work deadlines.
  • Destabilization: failure to acknowledge good work, allocation of meaningless tasks, setting the target up to fail.

In 2012, the Workplace Bullying Institute conducted a survey about the prevalence of bullying in the workplace. Fifty-eight percent of respondents reported being bullied currently, 39% reported having been bullied in the past, and 3% reported having witnessed workplace bullying. Most perpetrators (63%) and victims (79%) were women. Women bullies torment women in 89% of cases; men bully women in 63% of cases. Most of the bullies (75%) are bosses; 18% are coworkers or peers, and 7% are subordinates.

Women bullies tend to use subtle tactics like giving the victim the silent treatment or encouraging colleagues to turn against the victim. Men bullies tend to use more obvious tactics like ridiculing or yelling at a victim publicly.

The effect of bullying can range from lower job satisfaction and health complaints to suicide. Stress is the most predominant health effect associated with bullying in the workplace and can result in an increase in the use of sick days or time off from work. Workplace bullying is expensive. Author Robert Sutton reports that one company estimated annual losses of $160,000 from handling problems caused by one salesman’s bullying behaviors.

In addition to health, morale and productivity expenses, workplace bullying can cost a company in legal fees and settlements. Here are a few examples.

  • Former Asheville Citizen-Times editor, Susan Ihne, settled a $15 million dollar wrongful termination lawsuit against newspaper publisher, Randy Hammer, and the newspaper’s parent company, Ganette Co. Ihne claimed that Hammer yelled and raised his voice at her, belittled and degraded her on the job, and “misused his power in a calculated effort to destroy her self-confidence and get her to resign from her job.”
  • Two employees in Texas were awarded $250,000 in damages after a supervisor continually yelled at them, put his head down and “charged at them like a bull,” and made one employee wear a sign that said “I quit.”
  • Dr. Daniel Raess, an Indiana heart surgeon, yelled at perfusionist, Joseph Doescher (a perfusionist operates a heart/lung machine during surgery) following an operation, saying he was “history” and charged at him with a clenched fist. Doescher brought suit against Raess for assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and intentional interference with his employment relationship. The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff for $325,000.

The most awful effect of bullying is suicide or death. An article on bullying published in the Journal of Vascular Surgery cited an example of a surgeon bullying a new anesthesiologist. “After the tumor had been removed, the surgeon slipped into his disruptive pattern and verbally abused the anesthesiologist so aggressively that, in her distraction, she neglected to turn off the nitroprusside drip. The patient died.”

What can you do if you are being bullied at work? Assert your right to be treated respectfully, keep a diary (dates, times, places, what was said or done), have a witness with you during meetings with the bully, report the behavior to your supervisor and Human Resources and don’t retaliate.

Employers can create a zero tolerance anti-bullying policy, provide training, encourage prompt reporting, and respond immediately to complaints.

The benefits of addressing workplace bullying include improved staff satisfaction and retention, enhanced reputation for the organization, increased productivity and reduced liability exposure and risk management. Why put up with workplace bullying?

I’m curious … what experiences have you had regarding workplace bullying and what have you done about it?

Photo credit: Bullybusters

* Reference: F. A. Moayed, N. Daraiseh, R. Shell, and S. Salem, “Workplace bullying: a systematic review of risk factors and outcomes,” Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science, vol. 7, pp. 311–327, 2006

About the author: Judy Lindenberger is the President of The Lindenberger Group, an award-winning human resources consulting firm, located near Princeton, NJ. They are experts in career coaching, customized training workshops, online training programs, mentoring, 360-degree assessment and feedback, HR audits, employee handbooks, and more. Learn more about them at


About the Author

Judith Lindenberger

Judith Lindenberger is President of The Lindenberger Group, an award-winning HR consulting agency. She has over 30 years of experience helping clients create effective human resource management strategies to drive success for their organization and their employees. Lindenberger Group’s seasoned team of consultants offer expert guidance on all aspects of HR from recruitment and staffing to training and development to payroll and compliance. For more information, email


Beverly Peterson

It’s true there isn’t any legislation yet but there is a large petition asking for a national response. Each time someone signs it sends an email directly to President Obama & the Department of Labor demanding a response. Different countries have addressed it different ways and there are several different options that would work here in the U.S.

Geoff Mort

This is an ugly phenomenon, and Judith’s piece summarizes it well. Although, to my knowledge, no state has passed an anti-workplace bullying statute, several — including New York, where I practice — have seen such bills introduced in the state legislature. If you live in a state where this kind of law is enacted, seriously consider brining suit, or at least threatening it. My suspicion is that juries would be symparethic to the plainitff in such cases.

Judy Lindenberger

I agree. Leave if you can. Keeping your self respect and sanity is essential.

Many HR departments are unaware of the laws against bullying. If you are bullied, educate them about the risks of doing nothing.


Very interesting article – thank you for a title to what happened to my husband for the past 2+ years where the bully was his direct supervisor! However, he did everything you advised in the “what can you do” paragraph and it went nowhere. HR was absolutely worthless!

There is one other thing you can do – Leave. In this horrid economy, it is difficult to find work, but sanity and self-respect are more important than money and it’s better to leave before the bully gets you fired.

Comments are closed.