Workplace Bullying: A Threat to Health and Well-being

What Is Workplace Bullying?

IMAGE According to the Campaign Against Workplace Bullying (CAWB) in Benicia, California, bullying, also known as harassment, involves persistent health-endangering personal abuse that humiliates and demeans a person. Unfortunately, in many workplaces it is often downplayed as a personality conflict, an attitude problem, or a “strong management style.”When under pressure, anyone can become short-tempered, irritable, and engage in shouting, but they stop when the pressure subsides. Bullying behaviors, in contrast, are persistent and damaging. They may or may not be obvious. Obvious bullying behaviors include persistent:
  • Invalid criticism and nitpicking
  • Name-calling and personal insults
  • Shouting and displays of temper
  • Public ridicule and humiliation
  • Exclusion
  • Disregarding or ignoring
  • Devaluation of efforts
  • Threats
  • Spreading harmful rumors
Less obvious bullying behaviors include:
  • Deliberately withholding important information or resources
  • Setting an employee up to fail
  • Issuing unreasonable time or performance demands (usually not directly related to company needs or goals)
  • Taking away responsibilities, without just cause
  • Sabotaging an employee’s efforts
  • Monitoring or controlling employee (excessively), with malicious intent
  • Denying rights, such as use of leave
  • Lying about the employee
  • Manufacturing “evidence” of incompetence or instigating complaints from others about the employee
Approximately 1 in 6 US employees has experienced bullying at work in the past year, according to CAWB. It is a poorly understood, "silent epidemic" that poses a serious public health threat.

What Are the Psychological Factors?

Bullying behaviors stem from psychological factors in the bully, such as low self-esteem, feelings of incompetence, or the need for power and control. Most cases are not isolated incidents and the majority of bullies have a long history of this behavior. They harass employees for any number of reasons. They may feel envious or threatened by the employee’s competence, creativity, popularity, or ethics. Employees who are non-confrontational, cooperative, or vulnerable in some way also tend to be targets of bullying managers.

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