How do I Handle Bullying at Work?

B. Miller

Workplace bullying is a common problem, costing businesses a great deal of money every year, and affecting the health and well-being of employees. Bullying at work can be a challenging problem to solve, because most workplace bullies will not do anything in front of a manager. In addition, some of the worst bullies can actually be managers. To handle bullying at work, you need to address the problem as soon as it begins, and in as calm a manner as possible. You also should carefully assess the political environment in the company, and the resources available to you.

A workplace bully may communicate with words that are designed to cause fear and anxiety in others.
A workplace bully may communicate with words that are designed to cause fear and anxiety in others.

Bullying at work can take many forms, from insults, intimidation, cruel jokes, or harassment, to someone always taking credit for your work, badmouthing you in front of other employees, consistently leaving you out of projects, or even threatening you with violence. If someone threatens violence, it is important to go directly to your superior, the human resources department, or even the police if you truly fear for your safety. Do not attempt to deal with the situation yourself.

Workplace bullying is harassment with an emphasis on physical intimidation.
Workplace bullying is harassment with an emphasis on physical intimidation.

If violence is not an issue, however, the best first step may be to confront the bully yourself in a calm manner. Do not yell or threaten him or her, simply state your case and that the bullying needs to stop. It may be helpful to ask questions, such as, "Would you like your spouse to be treated this way at work?" After you have spoken to the bully, document the incident, what you said, and his or her response; this may be helpful later if the bullying does not stop, and you need to bring the issue to a superior. Continue to carefully document any incidents of bullying.

Meanwhile, be sure that your superiors know what you do and how hard you work every day. Do not allow the bully to take credit for projects you have worked on or completed, and do not allow him or her to dominate any meetings you may have, or to discount all your ideas. Presenting a calm, assertive front while proving your own success at work can sometimes cause the bullying at work to stop; most bullies are simply after the feeling of control over others and will move on to someone else if you do not provide the satisfaction they seek.

It is important to maintain your friendships at your workplace, but do not badmouth the bully to others. If the bullying at work continues, and confronting the bully on your own has not made a difference, speak to a manager or someone in human resources. They will then be able to issue a formal warning, which could eventually lead to disciplinary action or even termination if the behavior does not improve. Sadly, in some extreme instances, your best option may be to transfer to another department, or even leave the company if the bullying comes from above, and you lack the political leverage to put a stop to it.

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Discussion Comments


It is a huge mistake to appear weak to a bully, which questions such as, "Would you like your spouse to be treated this way at work?" make you appear.

Often the supervisors are as intimidated by the bullies as the rest of the staff. If that is the case, all you can do is transfer out. Otherwise, do an outstanding job so that no one can criticize your performance. Report to your director exactly what is going on and/or respond in kind to the bully in the form of a sneak attack when least expected, eye-for-an-eye.

You can't back down from a bully or "make nice" or they will continue to bully you. I learned that the hard way by getting fired from one job and having to leave another because I was too nice.

I'm currently in a job where a co-worker is attempting to bully me by staring at me throughout our entire 30 minute lunch break, making comments about "mustache" (I'm female). I was flustered at first. I went to my boss who did nothing. Now I'm turning around and staring back at her and gearing up to start talking about her morbid obesity. She is totally freaked out that I'm staring back at her! That alone has got her flustered!

Now if somebody is dangerous like the other poster brought up, of course I would just have to leave the job like everybody else. But if somebody is just mean-spirited and trying to hurt your feelings, you have to toughen up, stop being nice, grit your teeth, and do and say all the things you were taught were sinful when you were a kid!


I would not dare to address these bullies directly, even calmly. We are not on speaking terms. They have destroyed so many people's reputations. One woman survived an attempted rape by her uncle. They made sure everyone found out. She couldn't handle the stress so she quit and now sits at home unemployed. They brag about it to warn others what they are capable of.

I forgot to mention my work environment is male-dominated. I don't know of any woman who has ever worked for this company for more than three years. They all quit under controversy. That is why I'm convinced that management knows something, but still does not fire these culprits.

The staff turnover is high for both men and women. In 2010, six people left. In 2011, two people left. But these bullies remain. I believe there could be legal repercussions for speaking to them directly. They could twist it around and say I was intimidating them and trying to prevent their freedom of speech, blah, blah, blah.

I will keep a record of the goings-on, do nothing to them and then present it to management and proceed to contact law enforcement. What they do is inhuman. Re-truamatizing child abuse victims. I have no desire to negotiate. I am bringing them down, legally. Just advise me how to do it.

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