How to Handle Workplace Bullying

How It Feels to Be Bullied at Work

Workplace bullies thrive in a culture of silence. They recognize fear and capitalize on it to maintain power, to look confident and in control to their superiors and, in some cases, further their own careers. These types of people look for colleagues or employees who appear to be passive or docile. Workplace bullying experts Gary and Ruth Namie put it like this: "What makes someone a target is when the bully is testing her or his humiliating tactics on several people at work, the target does not fight back or confront the bully immediately. That yielding opens the door to future mistreatment because the target failed the test of being a jerk just like the bully" [source: Namie and Namie].

The emotional and physical impact a bully may have on a co-worker can be extreme. As mentioned earlier, the fear of losing one's job can be a powerful motivator to stay put, despite the abuse. It is not unusual for adults being bullied to exhibit the following behaviors:

  • Dread going to work
  • Lose a significant amount of sleep
  • Suffer from depression
  • Obsess over their job performance
  • Rationalize the bully's behavior or begin to believe he or she deserves to be mistreated
  • Have difficulties at home due to extreme stress at work

Bullied adults often feel they have no recourse but to endure the situation. They may put up with the treatment because they are the sole income provider for their family, think there are too few opportunities for work where they live or need the health insurance provided by their company. Perhaps they view quitting as giving in or validating a bully. People will often create justifications for staying in an unhealthy environment; don't fall into that trap. If you are the target of bullying or witness such behavior, there are steps you can take to right the wrong. In the next section, we'll explore what you can do to fight back against a workplace bully.