What Is Workplace Bullying? (With Definition and Examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Bullying is a challenging situation that can occasionally occur in the workplace. Whether you're a manager, team leader or team member, learning more about workplace bullying can help you recognise it in your work environment. Understanding what workplace bullying is can also help you create a plan to manage it and prevent it from occurring in the future. In this article, we define workplace bullying, explain how to identify such behaviour and discuss the steps to take if you notice workplace bullying.

What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying occurs when staff members in the company are subject to certain harmful behaviour. Workplace bullying may be a single incident or a common occurrence. It's a challenging and unfortunate situation, and it's important to notice and correct it right away.

Identifying workplace bullying

Workplace bullying may take many forms and can happen to people at all levels of seniority. It may be subtle or obvious. To protect yourself against workplace bullying and ensure that you don't unintentionally behave in a way that causes others to feel offended, here are some types of behaviour which people may consider workplace bullying:

  • Verbal: Verbal bullying involves words. For example, there may be pointed remarks about a certain person or jokes at someone else's expense.

  • Behavioural: Often, workplace bullying can be behavioural, which includes treating someone unfairly. For instance, there may be a social exclusion of certain individuals at the workplace.

What does not qualify as workplace bullying?

To help you better understand what workplace bullying is, it's also important to know and understand what workplace bullying doesn't include. For example, constructive criticism is usually not bullying. Criticism may not always be easy to accept but when criticism is constructive and helps you improve your work or performance, it is unlikely to be bullying. Furthermore, criticism that is targeted at the work and not the person may not be considered workplace bullying.

What to do if you notice workplace bullying?

If you ever notice bullying in the workplace, it's best to take steps to stop and prevent the reoccurrence of such behaviour. It's everyone's responsibility in the company to create a conducive work environment that promotes harmony and cohesiveness. Here are some steps you can consider taking if you suspect workplace bullying:

Approach your manager or the human resources department

If you're the target of bullying at the workplace, consider speaking to your manager about the situation. Your manager may have the authority to speak to the others involved in the bullying and put a stop to the negative behaviour. If you're not comfortable speaking to your manager or cannot speak to them about what you're facing, consider contacting your colleagues in the human resources (HR) department. The HR team can usually manage the situation.

If you witness any acts of workplace bullying, you may wish to reach out to the victim and extend an offer to help them. Depending on their situation, you may remind them that they can reach out to their manager or the HR department as well.

Related: How and When to Use the Phrase “To Whom It May Concern"

Keep a record of the bullying

If you find yourself being the target of bullying behaviour, remember to document the behaviour. Details may include the time and date of the event, the people involved and the behaviour. Try to include as much detail as possible and document the incident as soon as possible so that you don't forget or leave out any details. If there were others in the room, record who these people are, as they may be able to corroborate your words in the future.

If you witness some bullying at the workplace, you may also document it. These records may be useful to help a colleague raise the issue to their supervisors in the future. Be as detailed and factual as possible.

Confront the bully

Another straightforward strategy is to confront the person exhibiting the negative behaviour. If you feel that you've been on the receiving end of unfair or discriminatory treatment, consider speaking to the other person in private. They might not be aware of how their behaviour is affecting you, and discussing your feelings with them in a polite yet firm manner may help you resolve the conflict. You may also wish to bring along a trusted colleague or another third party to be a witness for the conversation.

This strategy works best if you are comfortable being in the presence of the other person. For example, if you feel they're excluding you from events, and you feel comfortable discussing this with them, you may do so independently. If it's a more serious matter, consider going through your manager or HR team.

Related: Interpersonal Skills: Definition and Examples

Reach out for legal guidance

Yet another way to react to workplace bullying is to seek legal guidance. If you're being bullied at the workplace, talking to a lawyer or other legal professional may help you think of ideas for how to stop the bullying. They may advise you to take certain steps or make certain complaints to protect yourself which may be helpful in resolving the issues you face at the workplace.

Benefits of managing bullying in the workplace

There are many benefits associated with a healthy and safe workplace with no to few incidents of bullying. Here are some of these benefits for your consideration:

Better work performance

Staff members of the company may find that their work performance improves when they don't worry about workplace issues such as bullying. With fewer distractions around, staff members have more capacity to focus on the quality of their work output. The positive work environment inspires staff members to work harder or more effectively, which in turn leads to the additional benefits of increasing the team's overall performance and productivity.

Enhanced staff satisfaction

Effectively managing workplace bullying may also increase staff satisfaction. For example, with few to no instances of workplace bullying, staff members may face lower stress levels and less anxiety linked to these situations. They may also find that their mental and physical health improves due to the elimination of such extraneous factors. Collectively, these aspects could help the staff members feel more welcome in the company and find their work more fulfilling. With greater staff satisfaction, there may also be the benefit of reducing staff turnover due to burnout or general unhappiness at the workplace.

How to maintain a positive workplace

Bullying is not conducive for the workplace. Staff members work best in a harmonious, supportive and safe environment. Less time goes towards worrying about how others treat them and more resources and effort are put into doing the work. This in turn increases work productivity and may help the company bring in more profits in the long run. Therefore, it's crucial to keep the workplace free of bullying and other negative behaviour for the benefit of everyone in the company. Some ways to keep the workplace positive include:

1. Compliment others

People tend to enjoy receiving compliments, whether it is about their work or otherwise. You can consider complimenting others when you feel that it's necessary. For example, complimenting someone's presentation for being clear, articulate and concise. Alternatively, you can also congratulate a colleague's recent project launch. Yet another compliment could be about a peer's positive character trait such as their generosity, helpfulness and sense of humour.

These compliments help build rapport in the workplace as it generates positive feelings between others. When others are in a good mood, they may similarly compliment others and it spreads positive energy throughout the company. This way, the environment is supportive and beneficial for everyone involved.

Related: How to Practice Gratitude While Working Remotely

2. Help your team

If you see your colleagues struggling with something, reach out to them to offer your help. This may be as simple as helping them open a door or pick up an item that dropped from their full hands. Helping others may also be in the form of discussing their ideas with them or proofreading an important email to a client before they send it. These small but significant gestures build warmth in the workplace which helps encourage all staff members.

3. Listen carefully

Your colleagues may be having a difficult day at work and wish to have a person to share their troubles with. In this situation, you can be approachable for others to share their worries. Consider asking your colleague if they need someone to hear them out or listen to their troubles. Providing such emotional support not only helps your colleague to feel better, but it may also help both of you forge and build a closer friendship.

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