Stand Up Against Bullying

Definitions of Workplace Bullying Miss Key Components

Workplace Bullying
There are many different definitions of workplace bullying out there. All of the definitions include a timeframe and the behaviors perpetrated by the bully including non-verbal, verbal, emotional, psychological, and/or cyber abuse or any combination thereof. For bad behavior to be considered workplace bullying happens over an extended period of time, for at least three months occurring on a daily or weekly basis. These behaviors range from seemingly minor to major acts of aggression and are both covert and overt. It is very important to identify the actual behaviors that a bully uses to inflict harm on a vulnerable worker and to understand that bullying is not a one off but happens repeatedly to vulnerable workers.

However, these definitions are lacking and do not provide organizations or workers with a full understanding of the bully culture. The bully culture would not exist be it not for ineffective policy and failed organizational responses. These two key pieces allow bullies to get away with bullying because there is not policy or leadership to hold them accountable.

Workplace bullying is not just about bad behavior. Workplace bullying happens and flourishes because organizations and leaders do not know how to effectively intervene and often do not hold workers accountable to minimum professional standard of behaviors. Bullies are allowed to mistreat their co-workers and because they are not stopped, they continue to bully. As such, the bully culture emerges. The lack of effective policy and the continued poor organizational response allows bullying behaviors flourish and eventually bullying become part of the normal workplace and the bully culture is born.

Here is a definition of workplace bullying that incorporates key pieces of the bully culture and provides a more accurate description of workplace bullying.

Workplace bullying culture is caused by systematic failures in the work environment including a breakdown in worker behaviors and expectations, ineffective or inadequate policy, and organizational responses that do not recognize the severity of the issue(s) and do not hold aggressors accountable. These failures result in personal and professional trauma for the vulnerable worker(s) and sustains the bully culture.
  • Worker behaviors:
  • Includes an accumulation of intentional acts ranging from seemingly minor incidences to major acts of aggression orchestrated over time by at least one co-worker towards another that collectively sabotages and harms the work and reputation of the vulnerable worker and influences their general well-being.
  • These behaviors can include non-verbal, verbal, emotional, psychological, and/or cyber abuse or any combination thereof.
  • Can have more than one aggressor and more than one vulnerable worker who is targeted.
  • These intentional acts of aggression are ignored and overlooked, therefore, normalizing bullying behavior into the worker expectations.
  • Policy:
  • Includes lack of policy to address professional behavior, worker conduct, and a specific policy to address workplace bullying. Ineffective use of policy to manage workplace bullying re-victimizes the vulnerable worker.
  • Organizational response:
  • Includes a lack of understanding of workplace bullying leading to inadequate interventions for the vulnerable worker causing re-victimization and reluctance to hold the aggressor(s) accountable.