How to Deal with Workplace Bullying

Tammy Cohen, PHR, SHRM-CP
May 10 2016
Some colleagues and I were talking about our first jobs when the subject of Waitressing came up. A symphony of groans followed and, one-by-one, people griped about earning poor tips, working long hours, always smelling like a fryer, and having to deal with horrible customers. Then, a young woman shared a story about a male co-worker we’ll call Jack.
Food service work is hard in and of itself, but this woman’s experience was particularly awful because of her co-worker. Jack went out of his way to put her down with comments like, “go home, you’re just taking up space.” Beyond the verbal derogations, the guy purposely gave her the wrong meals to take to tables and stuck her with his share of clean-up work. She said that she didn’t want to complain about Jack’s behavior because it was her first job and she thought people would label her as oversensitive or weak for being upset by his words and actions. She didn’t know how to deal with Jack, and she let his negativity eat at her until she eventually quit the job. I wish I could say that this was the first story I’d ever heard of one employee bullying another, but it’s not. Workplace bullying happens in all kinds of workplaces, and too many people don’t know how to identify or deal with it. School children learn about bullying, but adults often haven’t thought about bullies since elementary school. Bullies don’t disappear in adulthood or even in the professional setting of a workplace, and the consequences of bullying behavior can be farther-reaching than emotional distress. However, you can reduce bullying-related issues by educating your workforce on recognizing, responding to, and getting assistance for workplace bullying.  

Workplace Bullying Definition and Examples

Like child-rearing, abolishing workplace bullying takes a village to accomplish effectively and is ideally tackled by more than just one person. Workplace bullying is more than just a single instance of insensitive or hurtful words or actions; it’s a pattern of targeted negative behavior that incites significant distress in a work colleague. Training and coaching professional, Bonnie Low-Kramen, defines workplace bullying as, “persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating or insulting behavior or unfair action directed at another individual causing the recipient to feel threatened, abused, humiliated, or vulnerable… [They] cause work interference and undermine the individual’s rights to dignity at work.” Some common examples of workplace bullying include:
  • Publicly humiliating other(s)
  • Sending abusive emails
  • Belittling other(s) opinions
  • Withholding information
  • Sabotaging the work of other(s)
Bullying behaviors can be overt or subtle, so identifying them can be difficult. While you’re unlikely to find a comprehensive list of bullying behaviors, online resources provide several examples of workplace bullying behaviors. The shared characteristic of these behaviors is that they cause mental or physical harm to another person.  

Individual and Corporate Impacts of Workplace Bullying

Bullying behaviors hurt more than just the feelings of the recipient; they can seriously impact the health of the bullied. Potential health impacts can include:
  • Stress, leading to ulcers, high blood pressure, and even PTSD
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Eating disorders
Bullying behaviors also impact a business’ bottom line. Some of the impacts of workplace bullying on business operations include:
  • Lower company productivity and morale
  • Higher employee absenteeism and turnover
  • Increased cost of recruiting and training new employees
  • Higher risk of legal action
Healthy and engaged employees are more beneficial to a company than unhealthy and disengaged employees, so a company’s Human Resources professionals should include education and prevention of workplace bullying in their companywide trainings as well as provide employee resources.  

What HR and Leadership Can Do about Workplace Bullying

As with many corporate risk factors, prevention is the most cost-effective way to deal with workplace bullying. Invest in educating your workforce on how bullying negatively impacts both people and business, as well as how to identify those behaviors. A person being bullied at work shouldn’t have to handle it on their own, so be available and have an assistance plan ready in case you need it. Create a policy and procedure that assigns consequences, such as write-ups or counseling, for bullying behaviors, and enforce them. Additionally, pre-employment background screenings such as personal and professional references can help you identify bullying behaviors before your hire people to your organization. You can use this information to create lists of acceptable and unacceptable workplace behavior that you can then share with your whole workforce.

About Tammy Cohen

Tammy Cohen, an industry pioneer and expert in identity and employment screening, founded InfoMart 30 years ago. Deemed the “Queen of Screen,” she’s been a force behind industry-leading innovations. She was most recently the first-to-market with a fully compliant sanctions search, as well as a suite of identity services that modernizes talent onboarding. Tammy revolutionized the screening industry when she stepped into the field, developing the first client-facing application and a due diligence criminal search that has since become standard for all background screening companies. Cohen has received national awards and honors for her business and civic involvement, including Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Top 25 Women-Owned Firms in Atlanta, Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year award, the YWCA of Northwest Georgia’s Kathryn Woods Racial Justice Award, and a commendation in the 152nd Congressional Record.

About InfoMart

InfoMart has been revolutionizing the global background and identity screening industry for 30 years, providing businesses the information they need to make informed hiring decisions. They develop innovative technology that modernizes talent onboarding, including a first-to-market biometric identity authentication application and a verified sanctions search. The WBENC-certified company is a founding member of the Professional Background Screening Association, and they have achieved PBSA accreditation in recognition of their consistent business practices and commitment to compliance with the FCRA. The company is dedicated to customer service, speed, and accuracy, and it has been recognized for its success, workplace culture, and corporate citizenship with over 45 industry awards. To Get the Whole Story on InfoMart, please visit, follow @InfoMartUSA, or call (770) 984-2727.

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