Workplace Bullying: A Silent Epidemic

Work Bully

Bullying is as toxic in the workplace as it is on the schoolyard. Considered a “silent epidemic,” workplace bullying is a critical safety, occupational and public health concern. Some businesses are beginning to acknowledge its dangers, but many deny it though it’s illegal in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Quebec and soon will be in British Columbia.

Bullying Awareness Week (November 12-17) is a good opportunity to start the conversation around workplace bullying. Left to fester, it causes stress related health issues in almost half of its victims and costs companies their reputations and sometimes their best employees.

Bullying also causes distractions and anxiety that put jobsite workers and others at risk and hurts the bottom line.

Bullying is learned behaviour and often people who were bullied become bullies. The competitive culture of many businesses can also fuel bullying.

A bully is a supervisor or boss, a worker or a group of workers who feel a desperate need to take control of one person by repetitive, harmful, non-physical, covert and deliberate mistreatment. This focused attack against one person, the target, is a form of psychological violence and according to the Canadian Safety Council one in six workers has been bullied.

It can be hard to recognize workplace bullying or know if you’re a target of bullying.

Here are 10 examples of workplace bullying:

  1.   Spreading malicious rumours and gossip
  2.   Physically abusing or threatening abuse
  3.   Intimidation
  4.   Withholding necessary information or purposefully giving false information
  5.   Constantly criticizing
  6.   Unwarranted or undeserved punishment
  7.   Undermining or deliberately impeding a person’s work
  8.   Insulting, swearing or shouting at a person when others can witness it or, conversely, when no one else will witness it so that the behavior is plausibly deniable.
  9.   Socially excluding or isolating someone
  10. Treating one worker differently than others and expected him to work longer hours

Are you being bullied?

If you’re repeatedly experiencing any of these abuses from one particular supervisor, manager, co-worker or group of co-workers, you may be the target of bullying.

A target tends to be anyone who poses a threat to the basically insecure bully, who is more technically skilled and experienced than the bully, for example, or better liked, more independent and non-confrontational – someone perceived to be less powerful or in a weaker position.

Being bullied can result in the target’s lost productivity, absenteeism and financial problems and increased stress levels, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

If nothing is done to stop this bullying, the target can lose his self-esteem, suffer musculoskeletal problems, sleep and digestive disturbances, depression, and family tension and stress. Flourishing in a hostile environment of denial, secrecy, ignorance and fear, in many cases, bullying results in the person targeted quitting his job.

What do you do if you think you are being bullied?

  1. Talk about it with your friends, family and any co-workers you can trust
  2. Start keeping a detailed journal of every bullying incident, including date, location, time, nature of the experience, your feelings and any action you take
  3. You can take informal personal action by informing the bully that his behaviour is unacceptable, but if you do, be sure to have a witness, friend or union rep with you.
  4. Formal action is reporting the incidents in writing to a senior manager or human resources personnel.

Ultimately, bullying will only stop if employers recognize its existence and begin to change the company culture enabling it.

Here’s what employers must do:

They must ensure their supervisors and managers are not bullies by building “anti-bullying priorities” into hiring practices, advises Aaron Schat of McMaster University’s DeGroot School of Business.

  1. They must create zero-tolerance policies for workplace bullying with full commitment and support from senior management.
  2. When a bullying complaint is filed, they must treat it seriously and act on it quickly.
  3. Gather evidence from workers who may have witnessed a bullying incident.
  4. They must fully embrace the fact that bullying in the workplace is bad for business and for the morale of all workers and act accordingly
  5. They must not reward the bully but instead those who have the courage to step forward and those who step up and refuse to be a bystander when they see bullying happen.

Have you experienced workplace bullying or witnessed it? Talking about it is the first step in stopping it. Share your story. You could really make a difference.


  1. Dave Morton says:

    I had an experience of working with an individual who belittled me in front of co-workers, sabotaged my work, and isolated me from my incompetent managers, who were also termed as bullies. My co-worker was a social butterfly and when he did do any work, it was of extremely poor quality (court documentation and prosecution files). The workplace was so toxic I finally had to revert the my last position. When I brought this matter with my managers, they ignored the situation and the behaviours became more corrosive. As for our HR representative, she was completely useless and incompetent. Her favorite line was,” what do you what me to do about it”? A complete idiot !

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