Workplace bullying

Workplace bullying, like childhood bullying, is the tendency of individuals or groups to use persistent aggressive or unreasonable behavior against a co-worker. Workplace bullying can include such tactics as verbal, nonverbal, psychological, physical abuse and humiliation. This type of aggression is particularly difficult because unlike the typical forms of schoolyard bullying, workplace bullies often operate within the established rules and policies of their organization and their society. Bullying in the workplace therefore takes a wide variety of forms, from being rude or belligerent, to screaming or cursing, destruction of property or work product, not providing appropriate resources and amenities in a fair and equitable manner, social ostracism, and even physical assault.

Leading pioneers in the understanding of workplace bullying

The following pioneers made particularly important contributions to the understanding of workplace bullying.

* Dr Heinz Leymann (Sweden)
* Andrea Adams (UK)
* Dr Tim Field (UK)
* Dr Robert Hare (USA)
* Dr Paul Babiak (USA)
* Dr Gary Namie (USA)

Defining workplace bullying

While there is no single, formally- agreed-upon definition of workplace bullying, several researchers have endeavoured to define it. Some categorize all harmful boss-behavior and actions of directed at employees as bullying. Bullying behaviours may be couched in humiliation and hazing rites and iterative programs or protocols framed as being in the best interests of employee development and coaching. Others separate behaviors into different patterns, labeling a subset of those behaviors as bullying, explaining that there are different ways to deal effectively with specific patterns of behavior depending. Some workplace bullying is defined as involving an employee’s immediate supervisor, manager or boss in conjunction with other employees as complicit, while other workplace bullying is defined as involving only an employee’s immediate supervisor, manager or boss.

For example, according to Tracy, Lutgen-Sandvik, and Alberts Tracy, Lutgen-Sandvik, and Alberts [ Nightmares, Demons and Slaves, Exploring the Painful Metaphors of Workplace Bullying] , 2006] , researchers associated with the [ Project for Wellness and Work-Life] workplace bullying is most often "a combination of tactics in which numerous types of hostile communication and behavior are used" (p. 152). Gary and Ruth Namie define workplace bullying as "repeated, health-harming mistreatment, verbal abuse, or conduct which is threatening, humiliating, intimidating, or sabotage that interferes with work or some combination of the three".".Namie, Gary and Ruth [ Workplace Bullying Institute Brochure] ] . Pamela Lutgen-SandvikLutgen-Sandvik, Pamela [ Take This Job and . . . : Quitting and Other Forms of Resistance to Workplace Bullying] ] expands this definition, stating that workplace bullying is "persistent verbal and nonverbal aggression at work, that includes personal attacks, social ostracism, and a multitude of other painful messages and hostile interactions." Noa Davenport, Ruth Distler-Schwartz and Gail Pursell-Elliot identify “mobbing” as a particular type of bullying that is not as apparent as most, defining it as "…an emotional assault. It begins when an individual becomes the target of disrespectful and harmful behavior. Through innuendo, rumors, and public discrediting, a hostile environment is created in which one individual gathers others to willingly, or unwillingly, participate in continuous malevolent actions to force a person out of the workplace"." Marilyn Haight identifies thirteen patterns of bad-boss-behavior, with workplace bullying being only one of those patterns: "Bully Bosses try to intimidate the people who report to them. They insult, taunt, harass and threaten employees. They snap, shout, ridicule, and/or curse at them. While abusing people, both verbally and psychologically, bullying bosses have that cat-that-swallowed-the-canary, satirical expression on their faces. They appear to be out of control while attacking, but they are very much in control and keenly aware of the emotional reactions of the people around them"."

According to Pamela Lutgin-SandvikLutgin-Sandvik, Pamela, [ The Communicative Cycle of Employee Emotional Abuse] , 2003] , the lack of unifying language to name the phenomenon of workplace bullying is a problem because without a unifying term or phrase, individuals have difficulty naming their experiences of abuse, and therefore have trouble pursuing justice against the bully. Unlike the term "sexual harassment," which named a specific problem and is now recognized in U.S. law (and many international laws), workplace bullying is still being established as a relevant social problem and is in need of a specific vernacular. Marilyn Haight has taken a step toward isolating and naming thirteen specific behavioral patterns which are typically lumped together under the generic term of bullying.

Transsexual people are extremely vulnerable to workplace bullying. Even after transition they may be taunted and harassed despite company policy and legal safeguards. This is particularly prevalent amongst the skilled artisans and people who work with their hands. Most of this grouping just leave the employment pool altogether. Those that do not often have to suffer very hostile treatment from their management and coworkers [cite web
last = Rhodes
first = Stephenne
title = Workplace Harassment of Gender Variant People in the United States
publisher = Gender Identity Research and Education Society
date = July 2008
url =
accessdate = 2008-10-4
] .


StatisticsBully Busters [ Workplace Bullying Defined] ] from the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention show that one in three employees personally experiences bullying at some point in their working lives. At any given time, 1 out of every 10 employees is a target of workplace bullying. Nearly half of all American workers (49%) have been affected by workplace bullying, either being a target themselves or having witnessed abusive behavior against a co-worker.

Although socio-economic factors may play a role in the abuse, researchers from the [ Project for Wellness and Work-Life] suggest that "workplace bullying, by definition, is not explicitly connected to demographic markers such as sex and ethnicity" (p. 151). Because one out of ten employees experiences workplace bullying, the prevalence of this issue is cause for great concern, even as initial data about this issue are reviewed.

In terms of gender, the Workplace Bullying Institute (2007) states that women appear to be at greater risk of becoming a bullying target, as 57% of those who reported being targeted for abuse were women. Men are more likely to participate in aggressive bullying behavior (60%), however if the bully is a woman, her target is more likely to be a woman as well (71%).

Race also may play a role in the experience of workplace bullying. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (2007), "the comparison of combined bullying (current + ever bullied) prevalence percentages reveals the pattern from most to least: Hispanics (52.1%), African-Americans (46%), Whites (33.5%) and Asian-Americans (30.6%). The reported rates of witnessing bullying were African-Americans (21.1%), Hispanics (14%), Whites (10.8%), and Asian-Americans (8.5%). The percentages of those claiming to have neither experienced nor witnessed mistreatment were among Asian-Americans (57.3%), Whites (49.7%), Hispanics (32.2%) and African-Americans (23.4%)."

Health effects of bullying

According to Gary and Ruth Namie, as well as Tracy, et al.Namie, Gary and Ruth [ The WBI 2003 Report on Abusive Workplaces] ] , workplace bullying can harm the health of the targets of bullying. Organizations are beginning to take note of workplace bullying because of the costs the organization in terms of the health of their employees.

According to scholars at the [ Project for Wellness and Work-Life] at Arizona State University, "workplace bullying is linked to a host of physical, psychological, organizational, and social costs." Stress is the most predominant health effect associated with bullying in the workplace. Research indicates that workplace stress has significant negative effects that are correlated to poor mental health and poor physical health, resulting in an increase in the use of "sick days" or time off from work (Farrell & Geist-Martin, 2005).

In addition, co-workers who witness workplace bullying can also have negative effects, such as fear, stress, and emotional exhaustion. Those who witness repetitive workplace abuse often choose to leave the place of employment where the abuse took place. Workplace bullying can also hinder the organizational dynamics such as group cohesion, peer communication, and overall performance.Bullying is not a good thing, it can scar people for life.

Financial cost of bullying to a company

In a report by the International Labour Organization of Geneva,] they highlight three interesting facts about the financial cost of bullying in the work place:

* According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety Health (NIOSH) mental illness among the workforce leads to a loss in employment amounting to $19 billion and a drop in productivity of $3 billion (Sauter, et al., 1990).

* Leymann (1990) estimated the cost of bullying for the organisation to account for approximately $30,000-100,000 per year for each individual subjected to bullying.

* A recent Finnish study of more than 5,000 hospital staff found that those who had been bullied had 26% more certified sickness absence than those who were not bullied, when figures were adjusted for base-line measures one year prior to the survey (Kivimaki et al, 2000). According to the researchers these figures are probably an underestimation as many of the targets are likely to have been bullied already at the time the base-line measures were obtained.

Research by Dr Dan Dana has shown organizations suffer a large financial cost by not accurately managing conflict and bullying type behaviors. He has developed a tool to assist with calculating the cost of conflict. [ Dan Dana ] ] In addition, researcher Tamara Parris discusses how employers need to be more attentive in managing various discordant behaviors in the workplace, such as, bullying, as it not only creates a financial cost to the organization, but also erodes the companies human resources assets. [ Hugh Downs School of Human Communication ] ]

Types of workplace bullying

Tim Field suggested that workplace bullying takes these formsField, Tim, [ Bullying: what is it?] ] :
* Pressure bullying or unwitting bullying
* Organizational bullying
* Corporate bullying
* Institutional bullying
* Client bullying
* Restroom bullying
* Serial bullying
* Secondary bullying
* Pair bullying
* Characterization bullying (e.g. Pokémon Characterization)
* Gang/group bullying, also called mobbing
* Vicarious bullying
* Regulation bullying
* Residual bullying
* Cyber bullying

Workplace bullying tactics

Research by the Workplace Bullying Institute, see , [ Workplace Bullying Institute Harper Collins, 2006] ] suggests that the following are the most common 25 tactics used by workplace bullies.

  1. Falsely accused someone of "errors" not actually made (71 percent).
  2. Stared, glared, was nonverbally intimidating and was clearly showing hostility (68 percent).
  3. Discounted the person's thoughts or feelings ("oh, that's silly") in meetings (64 percent).
  4. Used the "silent treatment" to "ice out" and separate from others (64 percent).
  5. Exhibited presumably uncontrollable mood swings in front of the group (61 percent).
  6. Made up own rules on the fly that even she/he did not follow (61 percent).
  7. Disregarded satisfactory or exemplary quality of completed work despite evidence (58 percent).
  8. Harshly and constantly criticized having a different standard for the target (57 percent).
  9. Started, or failed to stop, destructive rumors or gossip about the person (56 percent).
  10. Encouraged people to turn against the person being tormented (55 percent).
  11. Singled out and isolated one person from coworkers, either socially or physically (54 percent).
  12. Publicly displayed gross, undignified, but not illegal, behavior (53 percent).
  13. Yelled, screamed, threw tantrums in front of others to humiliate a person (53 percent).
  14. Stole credit for work done by others (47 percent).
  15. Abused the evaluation process by lying about the person's performance (46 percent).
  16. Declared target "insubordinate" for failing to follow arbitrary commands (46 percent).
  17. Used confidential information about a person to humiliate privately or publicly (45 percent).
  18. Retaliated against the person after a complaint was filed (45 percent).
  19. Made verbal put-downs/insults based on gender, race, accent or language, disability (44 percent).
  20. Age is another factor.
  21. Assigned undesirable work as punishment (44 percent).
  22. Created unrealistic demands (workload, deadlines, duties) for person singled out (44 percent).
  23. Launched a baseless campaign to oust the person; effort not stopped by the employer (43 percent).
  24. Encouraged the person to quit or transfer rather than to face more mistreatment (43 percent).
  25. Sabotaged the person's contribution to a team goal and reward (41 percent).
  26. Ensured failure of person's project by not performing required tasks, such as sign-offs, taking calls, working with collaborators (40 percent)

Bullying and personality disorders

In 2005, psychologists Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon at the University of Surrey, UK, interviewed and gave personality tests to high-level British executives and compared their profiles with those of criminal psychiatric patients at Broadmoor Hospital in the UK. They found that three out of eleven personality disorders were actually more common in managers than in the disturbed criminals, they were:

* Histrionic personality disorder: including superficial charm, insincerity, egocentricity and manipulation
* Narcissistic personality disorder: including grandiosity, self-focused lack of empathy for others, exploitativeness and independence.
* Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder: including perfectionism, excessive devotion to work, rigidity, stubbornness and dictatorial tendencies.

They described the business people as successful psychopaths and the criminals as unsuccessful psychopaths. [Board, B.J. & Fritzon, Katarina, F. (2005). Disordered personalities at work. Psychology, Crime and Law, 11, 17-32]

Robert Hare and Paul Babiak discuss psychopathy and workplace bullying thusHare, Robert and Babiak, Paul, " Harper Collins, 2006] :

:“Bullies react aggressively in response to provocation or perceived insults or slights. It is unclear whether their acts of bullying give them pleasure or are just the most effective way they have learned to get what they want from others. Similar to manipulators, however, psychopathic bullies do not feel remorse, guilt or empathy. They lack insight into their own behaviour, and seem unwilling or unable to moderate it, even when it is to their own advantage. Not being able to understand the harm they do to themselves (let alone their victims), psychopathic bullies are particularly dangerous.”

:“Of course, not all bullies are psychopathic, though this may be of little concern to their victims. Bullies come in many psychological and physical sizes and shapes. In many cases, “garden variety” bullies have deep seated psychological problems, including feelings of inferiority or inadequacy and difficulty in relating to others. Some may simply have learned at an early stage that their size, strength, or verbal talent was the only effective tool they had for social behaviour. Some of these individuals may be context-specific bullies, behaving badly at work but more or less normally in other contexts. But the psychopathic bully is what he is: a callous, vindictive, controlling individual with little or no empathy or concern for the rights and feelings of the victim, no matter what the context.”

In 2007, researchers Catherine Mattice and Brian Spitzberg at San Diego State University, USA, also found a strong relationship between narcissism and the motivation to bully, and further discovered narcissism to be unrelated to aggressive forms of bullying (e.g., threatening violence, making false accusations), but related to more indirect, or passive, forms of bullying (e.g., ignoring, micromanaging) (Mattice & Spitzberg, 2007).

Workplace bullying and the law


Each state has its own legislation.

In Queensland there is no law against workplace bullying although anti-discrimination and stalking laws could be used to prosecute if appropriate.

In Victoria, legislation comes from Worksafe Victoria. If bullying endangers a worker's health causing stress or any other physical harm, a corporation can be found liable for not providing a safe place for their employees to work. [ Worksafe, Victorian Workcover Authority] ]


The Canadian Province of Quebec introduced legislation addressing workplace bullying on 1 June 2004. In its Act representing Labour Standards "psychological harassment" is prohibited. The [ Commission des normes du travail] is the organization responsible for the application of this act. [ Commission des normes du travail] ]

Under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act 1979, "all employers must take every precautions reasonable in the circumstances to protect the health and safety of their workers in the workplace. This includes protecting them against the risk of workplace violence " [ Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act 1979] Ministry of Labor, Ontario, Canada] . The Act requires establishment of Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committees for larger employers.

Under the act, workplace violence is defined as "...the attempted or actual exercise of any intentional physical force that causes or may cause physical injury to a worker. It also includes any threats which give a worker reasonable grounds to believe he or she is at risk of physical injury" [ Workplace Violence] Ministry of Labor, Ontario, Canada] . Currently, as the Act is written, the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act does not specifically cover the issue of psychological harassment .

On Dec 13, 2007 MPP Andrea Horwath introduced for first reading a new Bill, Bill-29, to make an amendment to the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act. This Bill-29 is proposing "to protect workers from harassment and violence in the workplace" and will include protection from psychological abuse and bullying behaviors in the workplace in Ontario. [ Legislative Assembly of Ontario, Canada] ]

The Canadian Province of Saskatchewan made workplace bullying illegal in 2007 by passing The Occupational Health and Safety (Harassment Prevention) Amendment Act, 2007. The act broadened the definition of harassment, as defined in the The Occupational Health and Safety Act 1993, to include psychological harassment. [ [ The Occupational Health and Safety] (Harassment Prevention) Amendment Act, 2007 in Saskatchewan]


In Ireland, there is a Code of Practice for employers and employees on the prevention and resolution of bullying at work. [ Republic of Ireland - 2007 Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work] ] The Code notes the provision in the Safety, Health and Welfare Act 2005 requiring employers to manage work activities to prevent improper conduct or behaviour at work. The Code of Practice provides both employer and employee with the means and the machinery to identify and to stamp out bullying in the workplace in a way which benefits all sides.


Workplace bullying in Sweden is covered by the "Ordinance of the Swedish National Board of Occupational Safety and Health containing Provisions on measures against Victimization at Work", which defines victimisation as "...recurrent reprehensible or distinctly negative actions which are directed against individual employees in an offensive manner and can result in those employees being placed outside the workplace community."Ordinance of the Swedish National Board of Occupational Safety and Health containing Provisions on measures against Victimization at Work AFS 1993:17 [ Official English translation] ]

The act places the onus on employers to plan and organise work so as to prevent victimisation and to make it clear to employees that victimisation is not acceptable. The employer is also responsible for the early detection of signs of victimisation, prompt counter measures to deal with victimisation and making support available to employees who have been targeted.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, although bullying is not specifically mentioned in workplace legislation, there are means to obtain legal redress for bullying. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 [ [ Protection from Harassment Act 1997] ] is a recent addition to the more traditional approaches using employment-only legislation. Notable cases include [ Majrowski v Guy's & St Thomas' NHS Trust] wherein it was held that an employer is vicariously liable for one employee's harassment of another, and [ Green v DB Group Services (UK) Ltd] , where a bullied worker was awarded over £800,000 in damages. In the latter case, at paragraph 99, the judge Mr Justice Owen said:

:"...I am satisfied that the behaviour amounted to a deliberate and concerted campaign of bullying within the ordinary meaning of that term."

Bullying behaviour breaches other UK laws. An implied term of every employment contract in the UK is that parties to the contract have a (legal) duty of trust and confidence to each other. Bullying, or an employer tolerating bullying, typically breaches that contractual term. Such a breach creates circumstances entitling an employee to terminate his or her contract of employment without notice, which can lead to a finding by an Employment Tribunal of unfair dismissal, colloquially called constructive dismissal. An employee bullied in response to asserting a statutory right can be compensated for the detriment under Part V of the Employment Rights Act 1996, and if dismissed, Part X of the same Act provides that the dismissal is automatically unfair. Where a person is bullied on grounds of sex, race or disability "et al", it is outlawed under anti-discrimination laws.

It was argued, following the obiter comments of Lord Hoffman in Johnson v. Unisys in March 2001, [ Judgments - Johnson (A.P.) v. Unisys Limited] , Uk Parliament - Publications] [ Johnson v Unisys Ltd [2001] IRLR 279 House of Lords] , Case Summaries, Equal Opportunities Commission, UK] that claims could be made before an Employment Tribunal for injury to feelings arising from unfair dismissal. It was re-established that this was not what the law provided, in Dunnachie v Kingston upon Hull City Council, July 2004 [ Dunnachie v Kingston upon Hull City Council 2004] ] wherein the Lords confirmed that the position established in Norton Tool v Tewson in 1972, that compensation for unfair dismissal was limited to financial loss alone. Unfair dismissal compensation is subject to a statutory cap set at £60600 from Feb 2006. Discriminatory dismissal continues to attract compensation for injury to feelings and financial loss, and there is no statutory cap.

United States

In the United States, comprehensive workplace bullying legislation has yet to be passed by the federal government or by any U.S. state government, but since 2003, many state legislatures have considered bills.cite web
last = Said
first = Caroline
title = Bullying bosses could be busted: Movement against worst workplace abusers gains momentum with proposed laws
publisher = San Francisco Chronicle
url =
accessdate = 2007-10-19
] As of October 2007, 13 U.S. states have proposed legislation; these are: [ Workplace Bullying Institute] ]
* New Jersey (2007)
* Washington (2007, 2005)
* New York (2006)
* Vermont (2007)
* Oregon (2007, 2005)
* Montana (2007)
* Connecticut (2007)
* Hawaii (2007, 2006, 2005, 2004)
* Oklahoma (2007, 2004)
* Kansas (2006)
* Missouri (2006)
* Massachusetts (2005)
* California (2003)

These workplace bullying bills have typically allowed employees to sue their employers for creating an "abusive work environment," and most have been supported by the notion that laws against workplace bullying are necessary to protect public health.

Although most U.S. states operate under the 19th Century doctrine of at-will employment (which, in theory, allows an employer to fire an employee for any reason or no reason), American workers have gained significant legal leverage through discrimination and harassment laws, workplace safety laws, union-protection laws. etc., such that it would be illegal under federal and the laws of most states to fire employees for a whole host of reasons. These employment laws typically forbid retaliation for good faith complaints or exercising legal rights, such as organizing a union. Discrimination and harassment laws enable employees to sue for creating a "hostile work environment," which can include bullying, but the bullying/hostility must be tied in some way to a characteristic protected under the discrimination/harassment law, such as race, sex, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, etc.

ee also

* List of books on bullying
* Mobbing
* Sexual harassment
* Workplace conflict
* Malignant narcissism
* Psychological trauma
* Post traumatic stress disorder


# "Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace"; Noa Davenport, Ph.D.; Ruth Distler Schwartz; and Gail Pursell Elliot; Civil Society Publishing; 1999, 2002; ISBN 0-9671803-0-9
#"Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Boss? How to Survive 13 Types of Dysfunctional, Disrespectful, Dishonest Little Dictators"; Marilyn Haight; Worded Write Publishing; 2005, 2008; ISBN 978-0-9800390-1-6

External links

* [ The Project for Wellness and Work-Life]
* [ Workplace Mobbing in Academe]
* [ Stress and psychosocial risks European Agency for Safety and Health at Work] (OSHA)
* [ TV-Interview, Workplace Bullying]
* [ Workplace Bullying News & Resources]
* [ The Serial Bully]
* [ Mobbing-U.S.A.]
* [ Tips for Dealing with Bullying Bosses and Other Types]
* [ Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) resources on bullying and harassment]

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