Bullying in Organisations

by | Nov 22, 2021

Bullying (sometimes mobbing; German: Tyrannisieren) is a common concern within the workplace. It occurs at all levels and in many ways.

Sometimes bullying is positioned in such a way that it is an everyday issue, for example as a personality clash, a leadership style, character building, or that it was provoked.

Criticism or monitoring of work, if done objectively and constructively, is not bullying. However, if the intention of such action is to intimidate, threaten, humiliate, or single out an individual without reason it will be considered bullying.


Who bullies?

People who bully others are at the best not fully aware of their behaviour, at the worse they do it intentionally. The type of behaviour may be: 

  • Intimidating – social exclusion, threats, spying, or other invasions of privacy
  • Retaliatory – accusations of lying about being bullied
  • Verbal – racial or other discriminatory abuse, mockery, humiliation, jokes, gossip
  • Work performance related – wrongful blame, stealing ideas, interference
  • Institutional – acceptance, allowance, and encouragement of bullying behaviour by the organisation including unrealistic goal setting, forcing overtime, or exclusion of those who cannot keep up

 Bullying happens at every level. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (2021) research shows that men remain the majority of bullies, 67%, and the slight majority of targets, 51%. Women bullies bully women at twice the rate they bully men.

Bullying remains primarily top-down with 65% of bullies being bosses and 21% co-workers being the source of bullying. 43.2% of remote workers are being bullied most in virtual meetings, not email. There is a 67% chance of losing the job you love when targeted with bullying behaviour.


Are you being bullied?

  • Are you micro-managed and questioned in your ability to do your job without apparent reason?
  • Are you repeatedly being insulted, yelled, or shouted at aggressively?
  • Are your job specifications and targets repeatedly changed?
  • Are you being blamed for things beyond your control?
  • Are you repeatedly ridiculed or criticised?
  • Are you the target of an ongoing office joke or derogatory comments?
  • Are you being given the ‘silent treatment’?


“On my first day at this firm my supervisor told me ‘I am going to break you’. I thought it was a joke, but she kept her promise. Week after week I found myself working long hours and weekends. I felt utterly overwhelmed with the enormous amount of work that she gave me that was partially way above my skill-level to the point that I started doubting my competence and confidence. Although she was very knowledgeable and could be very nice and helpful, you never knew what you were getting, and it could quickly turn into public shaming in meetings when my opinion wasn’t what she wanted to hear. It made me sick to my stomach and I dreaded coming into work. Eventually I was signed off work with anxiety and depression.”


What are the effects of bullying?

Bullying can be subtle or obvious. For the effected individual it is very distressing and can affect mental health and wellbeing beyond the office. It can make you feel sick thinking about work or dreading work, and you might have trouble waking up or getting good sleep. You might find yourself with self-doubt, low self-esteem, constantly worrying about work and wanting to stay at home.

You may have to take time off and lose interest in the things you usually enjoy doing. At the worst you might experience suicidal thoughts, or struggle with depression and anxiety. You might also experience digestive issues or high blood pressure. Being bullied can increase the risk for type 2 diabetes.


What is the cost of bullying for the organisation?

The negative consequence of bullying behaviour also impacts business. There may be actual financial losses incurred through legal costs or internal investigations. Morale and productivity among staff decrease and usually high absences and turnover rates of staff are recorded.

When bullying behaviour is not addressed it can be interpreted as a quiet acquiescence of this type of behaviour therefore become systemic and increasingly difficult to address over time.


What is the difference between bullying and harassment?

Bullying and harassment is behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated, threatened, humiliated, or anxious. Harassment refers to actions toward a protected group of people and is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. Harassment is unwanted behaviour relating to age, sex, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation.


Good practice

Having in place detailed HR policies on bullying and behaviour in the workplace safeguards employees and the business alike. It is important to apply it at every level by management and communicate to all staff. It is paramount to take complaints about bullying seriously and to work together with individuals to find a solution.

To this end many successful organisations rely on external support from a therapist who can equip individuals with strategies to cope with bullying behaviour and provide advise on HR policies.




Workplace Bullying Institute, https://workplacebullying.org/2021-wbi-survey/