Stand Up Against Bullying: A blog to help stop workplace bullying

Why Targets Should Not Be Encouraged to Report Bullying

3-D person holding yellow caution sign

Workplace bullying has been a problem for decades and it takes many forms. In bully culture, employees are subjected to verbal abuse, humiliation, and threats. The mere experience of being bullied is devastating for targets. Targets are retraumatized with these experiences when experts advise them to continue reporting bullying.
Reporting workplace bullying assumes that leaders will intervene to solve it. There will be justice served and the wrong will be righted.   A leader will step in and stop bullying. In a normal healthy workplace, this could happen. However, bullying does not stop in an organization plagued with bully culture, which is the furthest thing from normal. In fact, reporting often worsens targets' situations. 

Here are some reasons why telling targets to report is problematic.

Many times, leaders are the bullies. The Workplace Bullying Institute (2021) found that 65% of bosses are bullies.  About 60% of employers' responses to workplace bullying allegations led to the perpetuation and encouragement of bully cultures.  Consequently, organizations are failing to intervene and stop workplace bullying.

So, targets are often reporting their bully boss. If their bosses bully them, it is unlikely that they will stop because bullying helps them succeed. As long as leaders and supervisors keep their status and power through bullying, they will never stop it.  So, reporting for the target is futile and when targets report the bullying is likely to increase. Thus, causing more trauma to the target.

Additionally, organizations and leaders often fail to take this issue seriously since they are not aware of what workplace bullying is. Furthermore, they believe adults should be able to solve their own problems and intervention is unnecessary. And when targets keep reporting because they can’t stop the bullying, targets are seen as the problem. As a result, when a target report bullying, it continues and victims are retraumatized. 

This occurs over and over again for targets, who expect someone to intervene on their behalf. Their quest for justice is driven by their knowledge that bullying is wrong.  They do not realize, however, that bully culture prevents anyone from doing so. As a result, they become trapped in an endless cycle of trauma and bullying, which severely damages their professional and personal lives. Each time they report, they hope something will change and when it doesn't, they suffer. 

Reporting bully culture is not always the answer and the consequences of telling targets to report workplace bullying can be astronomical. For this reason, it’s crucial to make sure the person being bullied gets the right support and advice before they report. Educating them on the possibility of backlash and retaliation is crucial. It is important that they prepare for this. We don't have to accept that reporting is the only and ideal intervention.  Our goal is to help targets reduce the harm they experience when they work in organizations that refuse to end bully culture. In other words, they have to manage bully culture since leaders aren't stopping it.

Call to Action:
What is one thing you can do to support targets of workplace bullying?