How Businesses Should Handle Bullying in the Workplace | Blog | Eden Scott

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Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying at work examples

What is workplace bullying?

Bullying at work, or workplace bullying, is an act of intimidation, harassment, exclusion or undermining that occurs in someone’s place of work. It is usually a repeated action, and often targeted at one person by either a group or an individual.


Workplace bullying can have a major negative impact on the bullying victim. It can result in a loss of focus, poor mental health and serious illness. Bullying at work is symptomatic of a toxic work environment, and cases should be taken very seriously.

Bullying at work examples

Types of bullying at work

Workplace bullying comes in several forms, including verbal, physical, social and cyber bullying. These terms are explained in more detail below. 

  • Verbal bullying

    Verbal bullying can include insulting or abusive language, raising one’s voice in order to intimidate, or making generally negative comments about someone’s appearance, personality or performance. Providing constructive criticism or giving an employee justifiable negative feedback about their performance is not verbal bullying. 

  • Physical bullying

    Physical bullying is causing harm to a colleague or employee through physical abuse. It can also involve infringing upon someone’s personal space, including inappropriate physical contact. At work, there are very few circumstances in which it is ever appropriate to come into physical contact with a colleague or employee.

    Bullying at work examples

  • Social bullying 

    Social bullying often involves excluding a colleague, or making them feel unwelcome as part of a team or group. This can include repeatedly hosting events or meetings without the person in question, mocking them or making disparaging comments. It can also include undermining the person’s work performance, or behaving in an unfriendly manner without cause.

  • Cyber bullying

    Cyber bullying is any form of abuse directed towards a person that takes place online. This can include sending hostile or threatening messages, either publicly or privately. Cyber bullying in the workplace can take place on company channels such as emails, Slack or Teams - this behaviour doesn’t need to be anonymous for it to be considered cyberbullying.

Bullying at work examples

Although workplace bullying can take several forms, here are some of the most common examples of bullying at work.

  • Downward bullying

    This involves bullying from a boss, manager or more senior member of staff. Downward bullies abuse their power by mistreating employees of a perceived ‘lower status’. Downward bullying can be hard to address, as the bully usually has some say over the victim’s workload, working hours or salaries. This can lead to a victim feeling as though they have no recourse to stop the bullying.

  • Upward bullying

    Upward bullying is when an employee or group of employees direct abusive behaviour towards their boss, manager or a more senior member of staff. Often, this involves refusing to recognise the leader’s authority, being deliberately and repeatedly uncooperative and regularly undermining them. Upward bullying can be a real challenge for leaders, whose job success often relies on their team’s performance.

    Bullying at work examples

  • Sexual harassment 

    Sexual harassment is a form of workplace bullying, where an employee or colleague receives unwanted sexual advances from another member of the workforce. Making a sexual comment or advance towards another colleague is never appropriate. If the harassment becomes physical in nature, such as directly violating a colleague’s physical boundaries in any form, this is considered sexual assault.

  • Discrimination against certain groups

    Discriminating against a colleague on the basis of their race, sexual orientation, sex, gender, disability or religious beliefs falls under the category of workplace bullying. This can include making inappropriate ‘jokes’, excluding the colleague from meetings or social events, or using slurs. It can also include failing to recognise the employee’s skills and achievements in proportion to other colleagues. In some cases, this behaviour may be illegal.

Signs of bullying at work

As an employer or leader, you might not always be aware of workplace bullying. Bullies often act surreptitiously to avoid repercussion and hope to intimidate their victims into silence. 

However, there are some signs to look out for if you suspect workplace bullying. These include the person or colleague behaving withdrawn, quick to anger, rarely making suggestions, being regularly absent from work, or their performance suddenly declining. 

  • Behaving withdrawn or quiet 

    Someone experiencing bullying at work who might otherwise have been a confident or assertive person may suddenly start withdrawing from conversations, failing to make suggestions or may stop contributing to discussions entirely. They may seem to have lost interest in their work, or show an apparent lack of care. 

  • Being quick to anger 

    A workplace bullying victim could quickly become defensive, upset, angry or frustrated in a way that’s uncharacteristic. Someone who usually calmly navigates challenges could fail to handle high-pressure situations - this is often because they are at breaking point due to the impact of bullying. 

  • Losing self-confidence 

    If you notice a colleague or employee experiencing uncharacteristic or excessive self-doubt, this could be a sign that they’re being bullied. This could exhibit itself in talking about themselves negatively, being overly critical of their own performance or expressing that they can’t do anything right. 

  • Regularly calling in sick 

    Someone being bullied at work may take extended leave of absence or call in sick much more often than they used to. They may need to take time out due to stress caused by the experience of workplace bullying.

  • A sudden decline in performance 

    Workplace bullying can have a hugely detrimental effect on the employee’s performance. They may be late to turn in work, or deliver work of a substandard quality. You may notice more errors, or notice that the person is putting consistently less effort into their work. 

How to handle workplace bullying

Bullying at work is never acceptable, and companies must do all that they can to address and prevent it. As an employer, here are some steps you can take when dealing with workplace bullying.

  • Reiterate your company’s stance on workplace bullying

    Unfortunately, if the victim of workplace bullying doesn’t come forward, or if no one else reports it, it can be difficult to investigate bullying at work. However, if you suspect bullying is happening in the workplace, it’s worth asking your HR team to reiterate your company’s anti-bullying policy.

    You should communicate the kind of behaviour that constitutes bullying, including the possible repercussions if someone is found to be bullying a colleague. 

  • Take allegations seriously 

    If somebody does come forward to report bullying, you should take the matter very seriously. In the first instance, direct them to HR, who should help them to report their complaint, and conduct a thorough investigation. This will involve speaking to the person or people accused of bullying, and possibly other people in the organisation who may have witnessed the behaviour. 

  • Explain the repercussions of bullying at work

    If someone is found to have bullied another member of staff, they should face consequences, such as issuing a formal apology, being required to attend a training course, moving departments, or in some cases, being let go from the company.

  • Follow up with the employee

    Once the issue has been addressed, you should check in with the person who has been bullied regularly to ensure they are ok and the matter has been resolved. If you can, offer support, such as time off, counselling or other adjustments.

Want to learn more about protecting your company culture?

Watch our podcast about bullying at work below, or learn more about toxic workplace cultures.


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