Stand Up Against Bullying: A blog to help stop workplace bullying
Mental Health Professionals Targets

A Bully Loves Retaliation: The Perfect Weapon for Harm

The red circle with a white border that signifies "stop" with a face with bully written on it
Original Publication: December 8, 2016; Edited and Republished: January 24, 2022

Workplace bullies use many different abusive techniques and behaviors to go after the target. Their goal is always to maximize harm and pain. But retaliation is one of their favorite weapons to wields. They do it for revenge. It is subtle, covert, and often goes unnoticed by organizations and leadership.

Retaliation typically happens when the bully thinks that the target has outed them to leadership or their peers as being abusive in the workplace. This may or may not be accurate, but the aggressor accepts this belief as truth. Thus, the attacks against the target intensify becoming unrelenting. Retaliation causes tremendous harm to the target and the overall organization.

Retaliation creates an atmosphere or culture of fear and one where the target may become too scared to say anything more about the bully. If the target continues to make complaints, there is no limit to what the aggressor will do, and the workplace exploitation will continue to manifest itself unless it is stopped.

The goal of retaliation is not only to control the target’s behavior, but it is also to send a warning to others who might be thinking about exposing the workplace aggressor. Bystanders’ witness what is happening to the target, and they also become more afraid of what might happen if they get involved. So, many times, they hide themselves in their shell and try to remain out of the line of fire. The aggressor uses retaliation as a weapon to control all workers’ behavior and to keep the abuse hidden.

Retaliation creates an environment of terror influencing the overall organizational atmosphere and spilling over onto everyone in the workplace. Retaliation clearly establishes unwritten norms where targets and bystanders recognize that persistent workplace aggression will intensify if they speak to anyone about the aggressor. They learn very quickly to keep their mouths shut.

The terror that targets and bystanders feel is only heightened when leadership fails to intervene or stop the retaliation. The bully is given the green light to continue to abuse the target and retaliation becomes acceptable. Lack of intervention by administration and their inability to effectively intercede creates sustained and even enhanced organizational terror for the target and bystanders. Their failure to intervene causes additional trauma as well.

In organizations where workplace bullying has been identified, leadership must act. Leadership needs to develop an understanding of what retaliation is and how it is used by bullies.They need to develop a policy protecting any worker who reports workplace bullying, or retaliation. This includes targets and bystanders. Without these protections, they perpetuate the problem and add to the abuse that the target is experiencing.

A call to action:
Does your organization have a retaliation policy?
If yes, is it effective?
Does it protect workers?
If no, brainstorm what it would take to get a retaliation policy in your place of employment.