Workplace Bullying: What You Need to Know
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Published on May 11, 2016

employee being bullied at work

Workplace Bullying: What You Need to Know

Bullying isn’t confined to the playground. The behavior also occurs in the workplace, and it’s a growing national concern. According to a national survey from the Workplace Bullying Institute, nearly one-third of workers report having felt bullied at work. Unfortunately, 40 percent of targets — the individuals being bullied — never tell their employers.

Beyond the damaging effects on the individual being bullied, bullying also can have a lasting negative impact in the workplace. Bullying often fuels a negative work environment, which can be detrimental to an organization’s culture. The practice can also affect productivity and the type of care and service.

It is important to raise awareness about the behavior and to give employees resources to help prevent and resolve bullying behavior. “The individual can find support and look for a workplace solution,” said Tim Heerts, Avera Employee Assistance Program Trainer and Consultant. “The real solution to bullying is that employers can create an environment that prevents bullying.”

For employers who want to promote a workplace that is productive, safe and conducive to personal growth, it means maintaining a positive work environment and confronting bullying behavior immediately. “If bullying occurs, it is important to address it right away,” said Seth Hilmoe, Human Resources Officer at Avera Health.

What is workplace bullying?

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, workplace bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating or intimidating; work interference — sabotage — that prevents work from getting done; or verbal abuse.

There is a difference between bullying and setting work expectations. “For a supervisor to expect quality work from somebody, that’s not harassing. It’s the behavior that the supervisor uses to communicate with that employee. There are respectful ways to say, ‘I need better work from you,’ but then there are abusive ways to do that,” Heerts said.

How do you recognize bullying in the workplace?

“One of the primary ways you know you’re being bullied is if you dread going back to work to face one person and that individual’s ugly behavior,” Heerts said. Find a list of signs of bullying at

What should you do if you’re being bullied?

  1. Address the actions directly with the bully. Let the individual know you know the behavior is happening and that it’s unacceptable.
  2. The next step is to go to the bully’s supervisor, your supervisor or Human Resources. Once the bullying starts, take confidential notes to back up what is happening. If the issue remains unresolved, request to meet with the next level leader within your department structure.
  3. Look to your Employee Assistance Program for help, if available. “Being the target of a bully really affects a person’s health. EAP is a great place to turn to talk about it,” Heerts said.
  4. Check the workplace violence policies or employee handbook at your place of employment.

What should you do if you observe bullying in the workplace?

The No. 1 goal is to support the target. The target often becomes isolated; the bully is an expert at making sure those people feel isolated. The target needs to know he or she is not alone.

Workplace Bullying Facts & Figures

  • 27 percent have current or past direct experience with abusive conduct at work
  • 72 percent of the American public are aware of workplace bullying
  • 21 percent have witnessed bullying happening to others

(Source: Workplace Bullying Institute 2014 National Survey)

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