About Bullying in the Workplace

When you hear the term “bullying,” you may shudder to think of the tyrants you endured on the playground, in the locker-room, or on the school bus.  You may have been able to leave your braces behind when you left high school, but unfortunately not everybody grows out of bullying.  It can follow us into the workplace; without strong, knowledgable, compassionate supervisors and HR professionals, it may fester and spoil a once healthy environment.

It is our goal in Human Resources to create a happy, healthy, productive workplace.  Bullying has no place in that.

Workplace bullying is persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating or insulting behavior or unfair actions directed at another individual, causing the recipient to feel threatened, abused, humiliated or vulnerable.

— SHRM, 2012

Workplace bullying may take many forms.  It may appear as a supervisor assigning impossible work assignments to a particular individual, or an employee being otherwise isolated or alienated.   It may appear through more pointed means, by way of name-calling, intimidation, or unrestrained gossip (SHRM, 2012).  Bullying is malicious and often repeated behavior, happening recurrently over the course of time.  This is slow venom that seeps toxicity into a workplace, building up resentment and tearing down confidence in employees.  Employees should never dread their work day on the simple basis that they do not want to face a coworker.


On top of the heartache that bullying provokes in me as a humanitarian, I have an obligation to my business to keep bullying out of my place of work in order to maintain high morale, high productivity, low turnover, low absenteeism, and low legal and financial risk on the basis of hostile work environment harassment or constructive discharge claims (SHRM, 2012).  Additionally, as an Oregon workplace, the Healthy Workplace Bill is in place to ensure we are maintaining an abuse-free work environment, and it is my responsibility to see to it that we are doing our part. The second that I know about the possibility of a bullying problem, it is my duty to launch an investigation.  But in the hopes that it will not come to this, well-written policy is in place to define to our employees what constitutes bullying, harassment, gossip, and other unacceptable workplace conduct, as well as the disciplinary process associated with each.  SHRM provides some great sample policies if you aren’t sure where to begin.

My advice is to make sure that employees and supervisors are trained to know how to look out for bullying in the workplace and know the proper procedure for reporting it.  In my experience, many people do not know who to turn to when being victimized or witnessing bullying.  It can be challenging in that position to even identify when it is worth saying something about, because we often tend to think we may be being too sensitive or overthinking.  But the truth is, you know.  If another person’s behavior is negatively impacting you or a coworker enough that you are questioning if you should say something, then please do tell your supervisor, HR Manager, or employer.

As a supervisor, HR Manager, or employer, it is your job to keep good records.  Keep track of grievances, climate surveys, accident reports, exit interviews and letters of resignation, etc.  If you need to conduct a workplace investigation to determine if bullying has in fact occurred, you will thank yourself later for keeping good records (SHRM, 2012).  Remember that it is important to do your best to maintain confidentiality of targets and witnesses; if you are unable to do so, tell the individual that you will need to disclose their identity and in what way.  Along with this, it is very important to have a clear non-retaliation policy in place, and to enforce it.

Have you seen bullying in your workplace?  How was it handled?  Please, share your experience and advice!

A 2017 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute estimated that 61 percent of U.S. employees are aware of abusive conduct in the workplace, 19 percent have experienced it and another 19 percent have witnessed it.

— Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP, 2018

Is the Healthy Workplace Bill in effect in your State?  You can find workplace bullying statistics, information about the Bill, and nuggets about how you can make an impact here.  

Be a force for good, and please be kind.  It takes less energy than being a bully, and it yields better results for all.


Nagele-Piazza, L. (2018, March 28). Workplace bullying and harassment: What’s the difference? Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/state-and-local-updates/pages/workplace-bullying.aspx

SHRM. (2012, December 3). Harassment: Bullying: What to consider when there is workplace bullying? Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-qa/pages/yellinganddegrading.aspx

SHRM. (2012, December 11). Investigations: Bullying: How do I conduct a workplace investigation into bullying when there are no witnesses? Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-qa/pages/investigationintobullying.aspx

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