Handling workplace bullying blog image

Handling bullying at work

In last week’s post about bullying at work, we discussed the detrimental affects that it has on company culture. Now let’s look at what both employees and managers can do to respond to workplace bullying.

Recognize what bullying at work looks like

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, there are many experiences both inside and outside of work that can indicate someone is being targeted by a bully. The majority of these indicators stem from the deep emotional harm that bullying can create, and often manifest as physical symptoms.

  • Feeling physically sick before going to work
  • High blood pressure or other health problems
  • Days off are spent exhausted
  • Favorite activities are no longer enjoyable
  • Employees have been told to stop socializing with a particular co-worker
  • Speaking up against unwanted behavior is met with an accusation of harassment
  • The victim starts to feel that they are causing the unwanted behaviors

This is just a partial list of indicators of bullying at work, but what is important for a victim to recognize is that they didn’t cause the bully to behave this way. Bullying is not rational. It is based on the thoughts and feelings of the bully, not the actions of the victim.

Document bullying incidents and report them to HR

The nature of bullying is that it’s a pattern of threatening, humiliating or intimidating behavior. Anyone who recognizes bullying behavior should start documenting details of each incident soon after they happen so important details aren’t forgotten. Include things like dates, times, witnesses, specific words used, etc.

Having these details written down will aid in proving that the work environment has been made hostile, impeding the employee’s ability to work effectively. This is where organizations can start to see the affects of bullying on business results.

The psychological harm of bullying is completely legitimate. However, when discussing incidents with a manager (if they are not the bully) or HR, it’s often helpful to point out how the company is being impacted by work not getting done due to the hostile environment. Remember, bullying at work does not only affect the victim – company culture suffers, too. When seeking intervention from a higher up, show them the costs to the company from being bullied at work.

Managers can be a strong line of defense

In a Forbes.com article, bullying expert Sherri Gordon makes the point that workplace bullies often target the people with the most talent in the company – exactly the people the organization wants and needs working at their full potential.

For managers to build strong teams, they cannot tolerate bullying behavior. They can stop a bully in their tracks by fostering a team environment that encourages team members to support each other. If one starts to get out of line and target another, the strength of the team will crush their attempts at spreading rumors and negative attitudes towards a particular person.

Managers can also report incidents to HR, but if the organization doesn’t have an HR department, the manager themselves will need to address the issue. Since bullying at work can have serious psychological affects on a victim, it’s important that the bully and the victim are NOT brought into the same meeting to discuss the issue. They should be addressed separately so that the full story can come out, unimpeded by intimidation.

With any case of workplace bullying, it needs to be monitored over a long period of time to ensure the bullying is not continuing. Many bullies won’t stop their behavior simply because the manager had a talk with them. Their behavior could become more discreet and go unnoticed by coworkers, so regular check-ins with the victim are necessary to work towards fully eradicating bullying behavior from the environment.

To learn more about how to handle bullying in your organization and build a stronger, more supportive team environment, check out BizLibrary’s “Stop Bullying in the Workplace” microlearning video series, geared towards both employees and managers.

Watch a preview of “Bullying 101: Manager Version” here:


View these video lessons and more on anti-harassment training in The BizLibrary Collection by requesting a demo!