Workplace Bullying – What to Know and How to Stop It


In my most recent post, I discussed the complexities surrounding workplace bullying and how it affects organizations as a whole. Today, I’d like to talk about specific ways to identify, prevent and deal with this sensitive and often misunderstood problem.

Step 1: Houston, we have a problem. Workplace bullying is on the rise. To understand why, it’s important to remember two things. First, it can take on several forms, making it difficult to clearly identify. Second, it’s easily swept under the rug. Although I previously mentioned a few clear signs—such as verbal abuse and exclusion—bullying can also look like:

  • Deliberately overloading someone with work
  • Undermining someone’s performance by setting him or her up to fail
  • Purposely withholding information needed to perform a job efficiently
  • Excessively monitoring, correcting or nitpicking someone’s work

In addition to the obvious negative effects on the employee in the workplace, bullying can take a toll on one’s personal life as well. Here are a few signs to watch for at home:

  • Trouble sleeping, nausea or vomiting due to fear of going to work
  • Health problems like high blood pressure and stress
  • Family and friends who are frustrated over your unhealthy obsession with work problems
  • Spending your days off worrying about going back to work

Step 2: Take a stand. It’s one thing to recognize bullying in the workplace, but it’s an entirely different thing to help stop it. If you believe that you or someone you know is the victim of bullying, name it and claim it.

All too often, we are tempted to make excuses. Popular ones include: “I’m not the only one who is treated this way” or “I deserve it”. If you feel like you’ve been singled out unfairly or that you are being picked on more than others, you need to speak up.

If you are a victim or a witness of bullying:

  • Form a plan to stop the abuse and reclaim your workspace.
  • Speak with the appropriate person to help solve the problem, often a supervisor or someone in human resources.
  • Don’t assume that someone else will report bullying. If you see it, say something.
  • Help curb workplace gossip by choosing to not participate in it and by discouraging others who do so.

If you are in a position of leadership:

  • Keep your ear to the ground. As a leader, you should know what’s up with your employees. Remember, it’s possible to be aware of the office scuttlebutt without being a part of it.
  • Tackle bullying head on. Take allegations seriously and work with the victim and the bully to address and resolve the issue, realizing that disciplinary action may be necessary.
  • Work with your HR department to create educational programming and no-tolerance policies.

Remember, unlike children who prey on what they perceive as weakness in others, bullies in the workplace often target folks who threaten their career. If people feel threatened by your work ethic and expertise, use your knowledge and skills to encourage collaboration in the office and to help celebrate and advance the accomplishments of others.

David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206 or by phone at 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.