Understanding the Workplace Bullying Phenomenon

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By Dr. Sabrina Brandon Ricks, SBR Workplace Leadership Services 

Workplace bullying has been recognized in the United States since the early 2000s. Although there is no universal definition, it has commonly been described as repeated mistreatment in the workplace by covert and overt behavior such as:

  • Exclusion,
  • Manipulation of job duties,
  • Denial of vacations,
  • Humiliation,
  • Embarrassment,
  • Little to no tasks.

All of these can lead to stress, anxiety, and other health issues.

Workplace Bullying

Unlike discrimination, harassment, and sexual harassment, there no federal laws to protect employees from workplace bullying. It can be difficult to prove. According to Dr. Gary Namie, one in three Americans experience workplace bullying firsthand. Nineteen percent witness the behavior. Sixty-six percent of American workers are aware that it is occurring in their workplaces, whether they experience it directly or not. This can lead to hostile work environments and workplaces where employees do not feel cared for or safe. In turn, that directly impacts the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as well as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Internal investigations can arise from these types of claims.


Typically, bullies take issue with the victim and/or target because they feel threatened by their skills and abilities. The target is normally a focused and hardworking employee who seeks growth and advancement in the organization. The bully will find ways to keep growth and advancement from the target. This will likely be seen as a threat to their job and the bully may seek to eliminate this threat.

Workplace bullying is quite serious, as humans can only take so much mistreatment and bashing before a reaction results. This reaction can be looked at as snapping. Anyone is capable of snapping once all of the right triggers that build from magnified stress have been activated.

When People Snap

Snapping occurs more commonly than people may realize. In this scenario, John has been working in an office setting for over a year, Daily, his manager yells at him, keeps him off important emails that relate to his job, and cracks jokes about him in front of other employees. One day John is fed up and he snaps. One of four reactions will likely occur:

  • John may have emotional reaction and cry.
  • He may need to step out of the room for a while and take a walk to clear his head.
  • He may punch a wall or punch the bully.
  • John may go to his car and secure a weapon to bring bodily harm or injury to the bully. Other bystanders could be harmed in the process.

Teaching Conflict Resolution Techniques

For all of these reasons, it is essential to teach conflict resolution techniques such as assertive communication training to alleviate the chances for bullies in any organization. Contact SBR Workplace Leadership Services to learn more and to book a session, workshop, or training. Without the proper understanding and training, organizations can face losing valuable employees or face lawsuits. Workplaces could earn a bad reputation as an organization that does not protect and care for its employees, which can be detrimental to any business.

The best course of action is to be proactive and educate your employees for signs and symptoms of workplace bullying and get ahead of it. Workplace bullying can be resolved with the right tools, policies, and procedures.


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