Workplace bullying

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Workplace bullying is "repeated, health-harming mistreatment, verbal abuse, or conduct which is threatening, humiliating, intimidating, or sabotage that interferes with work or some combination of the three".[1] It has additionally been defined as ""Persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating or insulting behaviour, abuse of power or unfair penal sanctions which makes the recipient feel upset, threatened, humiliated or vulnerable, which undermines their self-confidence and which may cause them to suffer stress".[2] Unlike the more physical form of schoolyard bullying, workplace bullying often takes place within the established rules and policies of the organization and society. Such actions are not necessarily illegal and may not even be against an organization's regulations; however, the damage to targeted employees and workplace morale can be significant.[3]

Prevalence and occurrences of workplace bullying

A 2007 Zogby International poll among Americans found that 37% of American workers, around 54 million people, had been victims of workplace bullying, while 49% said they had been affected by it.[4] In the United Kingdom, a 2004 study by the University of Manchester Institution of Science and Technology of 5,300 employees in 70 organizations found that 1 in 10 had been bullied in the previous six months, 1 in 4 had been bullied since 1995, and that 47% had witnessed bullying over a five-year-period.[5]

Organizational psychologists Robert Hare and Paul Babiak indicate that workplace bullying is more likely to occur in hierarchical systems as opposed to those designed to be more flat.[6]

Effects of workplace bullying

Workplace bullying has been linked to physical, psychological, organizational, and social costs. Of these, stress is the most predominant physical and psychological effect, leading to increased use of sick days by workers. Employee attrition is an additional factor, as employees seek to remove themselves from the environment of bullying, as is decreased self-esteem, occupational demise, and even suicidal ideation.[7] In addition, co-workers who witness workplace bullying can also be negatively impacted, experiencing fear, stress, and emotional exhaustion. Like the direct targets of workplace bullying, those who witness such acts often choose to leave their place of employment. Workplace bullying can also hinder the organizational dynamics such as group cohesion, peer communication, overall performance, and can call the organization's ethics into question when management fails to deal with the workplace bully.[8] Business profits also suffer. For example, for 2001-2002, the Australian state of Victoria estimated that its businesses lost over $57 million as a result of workplace bullying,[9] while estimates of the overall cost of workplace bullying in Australia range from A$6 billion to A$36 billion per year.[10]

Psychology and behavior of workplace bullies

According to Hare et al, "Bullies react aggressively in response to provocation or perceived insults or slights". Moreover, they tend to exhibit lack of remorse, guilt and empathy, lack self-awareness of their behavior, and appear "unwilling or unable to moderate it, even when it is to their own advantage."[11]

Workplace bullies have been succinctly characterized as those who "know the words but not the song".[12]

Workplace bullying and the law

Most Western countries have enacted laws against workplace bullying, although sometimes only at the state and not federal level. For example, in Victoria, Australia, there are stipulations that organizations may be found liable if a workplace bully endangers a worker's health by causing stress, or any other physical harm.[13] For another instance, in Ireland there is a "Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work".[14] In the United States, 13 states have enacted legislations specifically targeting workplace bullying.[15]


  1. Namie, Gary and Ruth Workplace Bullying Institute Brochure
  2. Amicus-MSF trade union,
  3. Farrell, A., & Geist-Martin, P. (2005). "Communicating social health: Perceptions of wellness at work". Management Communication Quarterly, 18, 543–592.
  5. Wilson, Bill. "Workplace bullying: A growing problem." BBC News, 19 February 2004. Online at; archived at
  6. Hare, Robert and Babiak, Paul, Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, Harper Collins, 2006.
  7. Ibid. 40% of workplace bullying victims reported to Zogby that they had to leave their job to get the bullying to stop.
  8. Lutgen-Sandvik, Pamela Take This Job and . . . : Quitting and Other Forms of Resistance to Workplace Bullying
  9. Canada Safety Council. "Targeting Workplace Bullies". Online at; archived at
  10. Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (Australia). 2004. "Fact sheet: Workplace bullying", Information for Employers. Retrieved 17 August 2008 from
  11. Hare, Robert and Babiak, Paul, Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, Harper Collins, 2006.
  12. "Bullying: what is it?" Available at
  13. Worksafe, Victorian Workcover Authority
  14. Republic of Ireland - 2007 Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work
  15. See