Protect Yourself From Bullies at Work

Bullies aren't just a grade-school phenomenon; you'll find bullies and bullying behavior in offices and workplaces, long after you've reached adulthood. If you are stuck working with a bully, there are ways to mitigate the damage and protect yourself.

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(Photo Credit: rycheme/Flickr)

Laurie Meyers points out in the American Psychological Association (APA) magazine, Monitor, that in order to deal with bullies we first need to define what is bullying behavior. This is challenging.

What is Bullying?

Verbal abuse such as yelling or saying disparaging things is bullying. A manager may tell you your work is sub-par, but calling you an idiot is not appropriate. Bullying at work is also often more subtle; it can be about what somebody does not do. Perhaps you are not included or welcome at work-related social events. You walk into the break room and everybody stops talking and doesn't look at you. This is designed to make you feel uncomfortable, but it is a difficult thing to complain about because they didn't "do" anything. Not communicating with you is another form of bullying that can have a deleterious effect on your work if you don't get the information you need to do your job well. 

Many places of work almost encourage bullying by chalking problems up to "personality conflicts" or taking the attitude that the victim needs to be tougher, know how to take it, or not be so sensitive.

As infantile as many bullying behaviors are, according to the APA they are all too common and may, literally, disable an employee. Some victims of bullying in the workplace have gone so far as to commit suicide. In less disastrous cases, people are unable to be productive at work, and the organization suffers even if management claims to not understand why.

Protect Yourself

The first way you can protect yourself from workplace bullies, if you are unlucky enough to be around them, is to know that it is not your fault. There is nothing wrong with you; there is something wrong with the bullies.

Bullies are cowards. They are often insecure and need to make themselves feel bigger by making you feel smaller. While they are the ones with problems, they are often able to cause problems for others. Being secure in the knowledge that you are not at fault will help keep you grounded.

Workplace dynamics result in a culture of bullying. There is the resident bully, the innocent victim, and fearful bystanders, who don't want to get hurt, adopting apathy and looking the other way. This only empowers the bully. Bullies go after victims who seem weak or don't stand up for themselves.

Standing up to the bully, showing that you do have a backbone, may earn you the bully's respect. The bully is a coward, and doesn't want you to fight back. Before you confront a bully, please make certain you are safe. You don't want to be physically cornered, and you should have witnesses present who understand your situation.

Document everything. Write down what happened and what the bully said or did. This helps you if you need to discuss the situation with a manager or supervisor. Write things down as they happen, so you don't get into arguments down the road about what "really happened."

Sometimes it is necessary to consult with law enforcement, legal services, or counseling. The bottom line is you do not have to tolerate being victimized.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have bullies in your workplace? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


  1. 4 PayScale 24 Aug
    Roxana, we're so sorry to hear about your situation. Please reach out to local authorities if you're feeling threatened. They'll be better able to give you specific advice on how to protect yourself and your family.
  2. 3 Roxana 23 Aug
    What about bullies elsewhere? My step kids step father has bullies me on at least 4 desperate occassions. This last time I asked him 3 times to step away from my car and he kept on harassing me. I felt threatened especially since my children were in the car. He felt the need to stop me from driving away and picked a fight with me. I don't know if that's enough for a restraining order but at this point I'm scared not only for my life but for the lives of my step children that spent most of their time there. The mother is horrible too, the things she has done to her own children to make herself feel better is horrific! Should I file a police report so there is documentation, as stated previously, I don't know if verbal abuse and bulling is enough for a restraing order????
  3. 2 Wilma Drummond 08 Sep
    There is a bully at the office I volunteer . He demonstrates aggressive behavior, going so far as to curse openly at the owner, offers suggestive threats, and sends the owner Text messages stating how he can't stand me for coming in changing things. He had demonstrated this behavior on numerous occasions & verbally I have asked him (politely) not to speak to me in his aggressive disrespectful tone(s). Further, he agitated the administrative assistant to contribute to his misbehavior. (His girlfriend is adm asst sister) I volunteer assisting the small minority business man with getting his office set up pet Depr of labor requirements, human resources & small business office procedures,policies etc. this included the drafting of job descriptions, salary surveys, identification of job duties, applicable rules/ regs for the business. Etc. further, after having this worker to fill out an application( yes, there was not an application completed on any of the workers)he really became belligerent. That motivated me to contact the past employers he listed for reference. Well he listed 3 past employers all which coincidently he listed as "shutdown it went out of business. However; the one I contacted that is still I business stated if I fax her my questions she will provide me with the correct position he held, correct duties he performed & correct start/end date. I'm hoping this includes "Correct reason for leaving??? I have voiced my concerns about to the owner about this employees behaviors & my overall concern about his unprofessional conduct. I will recommend this training to the owner so he can also educate himself about the severity & revel acne of understanding, detecting & finally how to handle these serious concerns of any employee that identifies with "Bullying des positions/actions:methods. Thank you Wd
  4. 1 Maxwell Pinto 04 Sep
    Targets, victims and witnesses of bullying have a few avenues to pursue (as compared with victims of sexual harassment) when subjected to bullying, i.e., repeated and obvious acts of aggression, spreading malicious rumours, excluding someone socially or from certain projects, undermining or impeding a person’s work or opinions, insulting a person’s habits, attitudes, or private life and intruding upon a person’s privacy. Others include being rude or belligerent, destroying property, assaulting an individual, or setting impossible deadlines. Although bullying is recognized as detrimental to occupational health, there is little political or corporate interest in stopping it. In schoolyard bullying, the bullies are children, whose behaviour is controlled by the leaders, i.e. the school administration. In workplace bullying, however, the bullies are often the leaders themselves, i.e., the managers and supervisors. Therefore, reporting a bully to the HR dept, for example, may expose the target/victim to the risk of even more bullying, slower career advancement, or even termination, on the grounds of being a “troublemaker!”. Workplace bullying has severe consequences, including reduced effectiveness and high employee turnover. An employee who suffers any physical or psychiatric injury as a result of workplace bullying can confront the bully, report the bully to the HR department or to the trade union, if any, or bring a claim of negligence and/or a personal injury claim against both the employer and the abusive employee as joint respondents in the claim. If the law does not persuade employers to deal with workplace bullying, the economic reality will persuade them. Training sessions can help when combined with a confidential reporting structure, but it is difficult to alter the basic nature of some individuals, who may need counselling. Maxwell Pinto, Business Author


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