Workplace bullying: everyone’s responsibility

What is workplace bullying and why is it an important issue? How can or should you react in instances of such undesired behaviour?

What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying occurs when an employee experiences a persistent pattern of mistreatment from others in the workplace that causes harm (Rayner, C. & Keashley, L. (2005), Bullying at work: A perspective from Britain and North America).

Forms of bullying are: verbal abuse, social isolation and abusive behaviour which leads to intimidation and damage to a person’s social image and career.

Such behaviour is considered as inappropriate when it is repetitive and against the apparent will of the person.

It is highly possible that a certain behaviour is perceived as offensive by the other person even when our intentions are not harmful. This is why it is important to be self-aware, reflect on our behaviour and observe how other people react to our behaviour.

Being open to discussion and feedback, helps us see how the others view the topic and helps understand how we should interact with each other. 

The negative effects of workplace bullying

Bullying can have several negative effects:

 On the person both on the working and inter-personal life

Some of these effects are:
- Overwhelming anxiety
- Lowered self-esteem
- Depression
- Shame-isolation
- Psychosomatic symptoms(as a result of excessive stress) like digestive problems, low tolerance to colds and migraines

 On an organisational level

Some of the potential effects are:
- Loss in productivity and motivation
- Decreased employee commitment and loyalty
- Increase in turnover / intention to quit
- Sick leave and increased health care costs

What should you do?

In an organisation everyone is responsible for fostering a supportive working environment.

 If you are the victim

Sometimes it can be difficult and uncomfortable to talk about this experience. However, this does not mean you should not do something about it.

Try to discuss this with the person involved and explain why this behaviour is not desired by you, as well as how you would like to be treated.

If the problem persists check which are the reporting mechanisms in your organisations and if there is a person you can talk to (eg. HR / company doctor / confidential advisor).

 If you are the witness or colleague

Witnessing bullying and not taking action is also partly responsible for maintaining a hostile working environment.

Approach the person in need and try to support him / her or even empower him/her to stand for him/herself. If you see this pattern of abusive behaviour repeating itself, then it is worth exploring the reporting mechanisms in your organisation.

If you are the team leader

As a senior manager you are among the first who should lead as an example and behave accordingly.

Talk to your team members openly about the topic, explaining how undesired behaviour can potentially have negative effects on your team’s goals and cooperation.

Do not hesitate to take action when you see bullying taking place in your team!

Have you experienced or witnessed bullying at work? Was it dealt with properly or allowed to go on?

Mina Stamataki


Mina Stamataki

Mina is an Occupational Health Psychologist (MSc), with experience in the topics of workplace health promotion,stress prevention,diversity and safety. In addition, she is working in Learning & Development in a...

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