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

What is Workplace Bullying?

Caucasian boy with red hair with a fist and pushing his sleeve up
Original Post on June 13, 2016; Edited and Re-published September 19, 2019

Workplace bullying is commonly thought of as the same as workplace conflict, which is a common misconception. Managing workplace bullying as if it is conflict can have devastating effects. The two, of course, are very different, but how so?

Everyone in the workplace experiences some sort of conflict. We all get irritated or upset about something that happens at our jobs. Most of us have made comments to our co-workers or in a meeting that we later regret. However, these are most likely part of normal workplace conflict because these typically get resolved. We let the issue go and move on.

Workplace bullying is abusive behavior that happens to a target by one or more perpetrators in the work environment on a regular basis. A regular basis means that it occurs daily, weekly, and/or monthly. The aggression is persistent, repeated, and occurs in multiple forms—verbal, nonverbal, physical, psychological, and/or cyber. It includes attacks on one’s professional reputation and gaslighting.  More often than not, aggressors go after the target on several fronts at once. This means they don't just attack via cyber aggression, but they also weave into their abuse verbal, physical, and/or psychological.

For example, a target in a week could receive several inappropriate emails from an aggressor while at the same time, the aggressor is spreading rumors about the target. The next week could consist of the target being yelled at and called names in a meeting while at the same time, the aggressor spreads lies about the target to the supervisor.

Unfortunately, most of the time, targets attempt to stop workplace bullying on their own, facing the emotional toll of persistent aggression. They endure frequent inappropriate emails, hear people gossip, experience colleagues refusing to speak, and encounter some form of non-verbal abuse daily. Despite their efforts, these behaviors can persist for months without any reprieve, often coming from more than one bully at once.

Workplace bullying is often compared to domestic violence. It is certainly abusive behavior. However, workplace aggression rarely, if ever, has a honeymoon period. More often, the violence continues frequently and unfortunately gets progressively worse. Workplace bullying is so much more than conflict in the workplace, which is why we must believe targets and begin to address this issue.