10 Signs You Face Bullying At The Office

Joe Weinlick
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Nearly one in every four Americans has dealt with a bully in the workplace at some time in their careers, according to a 2014 survey published by the Workplace Bullying Institute. This stressful situation can lead to anxiety, lost days of work due to illness, depression and a constant state of walking on eggshells.

Workplace bullying entails repeated mistreatment by a colleague or supervisor. These actions occur over a sustained period of time instead of as a single isolated incident. Bullying can cause humiliation, intimidation and lost productivity. However, since many people do not even recognize work-related bullying, it is important to know some of the signs and scenarios that identify the situation.

Unrealistic Expectations

Your boss puts you on a new task that you have never trained for at the office. Even worse, the supervisor does not give you time to learn how to do this new job. When you try to accomplish the task to the best of your abilities, the work is not good enough because your boss has impossible or unrealistic expectations.

Constant Aggression

Someone at your office yells, shouts, bangs fists and has mood swings. This aggression seems to come out of nowhere and for no reason, yet the bully justifies his yelling and shouting with a made-up reason. You may feel you want to shout back at the person tormenting you.

Pitting Employees Against Each Other

Bullies may encourage conflict and unhealthy competition between employees. The bully may also determine who wins and who loses in this situation. This competitive environment causes employees to turn against one other instead of directing frustrations toward the bully who instigated the tensions.

Blame Game

When you confront the bully, he may deflect blame to someone else or makes excuses for his behavior. For example, your tormentor might tell you that his aggression results from your behavior, or he might blame lack of sleep or personal problems. These excuses do not justify workplace bullying.

Physical and Verbal Threats

A bully at the office might threaten you with negative consequences if you do not conform to his way of doing things. This person might threaten to fire, demote, discipline or punish you. The employee may even threaten to physically harm you or cause emotional distress.

Distant Co-Workers

Your co-workers may decide to suddenly stop talking to you, inviting you to lunch or socializing with you. In some cases, these co-workers may be acting under pressure from the bully to try to isolate you.

Taking Credit

A bully might try to take credit for your work. On the other hand, a bullying supervisor or colleague could try to blame you for mistakes you never made as he tries to deflect responsibility for his own incompetence.

Constant Lies

One subtle type of bullying includes constant lying. These deceptions undermine trust among colleagues by creating false hopes and obscuring reality. By using lies, the bully may also attempt to get a co-worker in trouble.

Failing to Address Concerns

A manager or an authority figure should address your concerns in a timely fashion. However, when the person in authority is a bully, he does not have your best interests in mind. In this case, he may not listen to your concerns, or he may make insincere promises to help that he never fulfills.

Excessive Flattery

Believe it or not, excessive flattery is a form of workplace bullying. This behavior sets up a situation in which the person being complimented becomes more receptive to the bully's manipulation. The victim falls into a subtle trap that can lead to hurt feelings and loss of trust.

Dealing with workplace bullies is not easy. Harassment at work is something no one should have to handle alone. The first step involves going to your human resources department to seek assistance. Document the pattern of abuse and report it to prevent the problem from escalating and causing further stress in the workplace.

Photo Courtesy of Raymond Choi at Flickr.com


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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Marc SO sorry that you had to go through this. Is it too late to contact a lawyer who specializes in this type of action and sue the company? I would think that, even if the suit doesn't go anywhere, it would be enough to get the store's attention as well as the higher ups. It may not get your job back but it may get you a small settlement. It does sound like you were set-up and that the company used the co-worker to get you out the door. Saves them from paying you any type of retirement, vacation time, etc. That co-worker won't last very long either; not now that she has been used as a pawn. Sorry but it would appear that she would be too much overhead for the company as she could start her own lawsuit. Again sorry Marc and trust me - the system does not prefer to help women at all costs. Hoping for a great new position for you.

  • Marc J.
    Marc J.

    I wish I had read this 2 years ago ! I was asked by my store manager , who told me to write up a team member , because she was English second language . I responded to my store manager with I will have to pray about this. Next day I told the store manager I could not write her up on thoose grounds. I told that manager I would learn her first language ( a couple of words ) and that was that I thought !! A month later the district manager ( the store managers boss ) paid me a visit raising his voice at me on the sales floor. Later that week I answered a page to goto the store managers office ( the assisstant store manager paged me ) . In his office was both the store and assisstant manager , I was told to sit when I read my Weingarter Rights , The store manager was livid and told me we are going to have this meeting . then I was told I had 5 write ups on me including my termination . I WAS NEVER shown any write ups just told that the top said Refused to sign . I was transfered then terminated when a co-worker told me to bring my wife to her appartment so she could talk to my wife . I said NO ! She handed me writtn directions I responded with with part of NO did you not understand ... She told me I made her cry . I felt I was being used and as her supervisor i told her If you want to cry me a river , then you have two options . First is continue to cry and drown in your own sorrows .. the second option is build a bridge and get over it . I tried to say to an emotional co-worker That I would be putting my job on the line had I gone . The end was I stayed at home with my wife , she got mad then even , Human resources gave me a two week unpaid vacation. The result was I was terminated after 19 years and the co-worker , 90 days with the company is still employed I believe . I lost a home foreclosure . and I lost respect for a system that prefers to help women at all cost - Not my take - MY EXPERIENCE FIRST HAND

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Tamara thanks for your comment. Absolutely - everyone should know their rights in the workplace. If you don't, contact HR and find out what your rights are. Or, check in your employee handbook as it should have them outlined. The more people who stand up to these bullies, the fewer bullies there will be.

  • TAMARA stone
    TAMARA stone

    I believe everyone should research "Constructive Discharge" If your issues were reported and the employer failed to take steps to rectify the problem and because of this you were forced to resign/quit, you may have a case against that employer. Employees are protected under so many rights and we don't know most of them. I can't express enough how important it is as employees to know our rights in the workplace!

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Cynthia so very sorry that you are going through this. Work is tough enough without having a bully for a boss. Sadly, since you have already been through management and HR and the situation has not changed, your only option is to put up with it or leave. Has the sister group lodged any complaints? I think that you could hire an outside attorney who deals in situations like this but, if you decide to go down the road, be prepared to find another job. I hate to say that but I have been in situations like this and, as soon as you bring in an outsider, life can become unbearable. The only satisfaction that I got in a like situation is that the person that they assigned to his team also reported him to management and they moved the bully to a dead end non-management position. He quickly resigned. For me, it was nice to know that it wasn't just me; that someone else had the same issue with him. I wish you all the best and remember - we have great job postings here!


    I'm dealing with this right now. I've been to 2 levels of management and HR, and so far, all that's happened is that they've talked to the bully and "appropriate disciplinary action has been taken". He hasn't changed and isn't likely to. He is causing serious rifts between our org and a sister group which we depend on, but management just refuses to see the root of the problem and blames the sister group instead. I am looking at leaving because of the toxic environment. Does anyone know if there are legal recourses for this situation when HR and management won't act?

  • dave h.
    dave h.

    I've dealt with it at most of my jobs. I've had mean and abusive bosses. I've had controlling and manipulative co-workers. I've also had obnoxious ones. I've had ones who have taken advantage of me and others. Some of my bosses have had unrealistic expectations or demands. I think some people don't know how to be a boss or be in charge. They think that being a boss or supervisor is about yelling and barking out orders, being obnoxious and it's not. It's about responsibility. It's about making sure things get done. As for yelling and barking out orders, that's for the military and they do that for a reason.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Rick so sorry that you had to go through that. I, too, had more than one instance of bullying throughout my career. It's really hard when the higher ups turn a blind eye to the situation because - well, maybe they are afraid of her. I still truly believe that at some point, that bully will get her comeuppance.

  • Rick Lofton
    Rick Lofton

    Hi Nancy, I had the misfortune of working for a bully some time ago. The problem was that the administration, human resources and everyone in the organizational hierarchy knew she was a bully and "supported her style of management"... My coworkers chose to turn a deaf ear, to the problem, my assistant supervisor did all he could to "suck up" to this individual(who eventually turned on him after the primary target was no longer available-me). She was allowed to retire from the organization after ruining so many other people's lives without punishment or recourse.... and then given a part -time job with the agency....I say all this to say that I agree with you that bullying , psychological, or physical , should never be tolerated

  • ghulam m.
    ghulam m.

    try to resolve the declared situation, in friendly environment, or get help from friends, instead of leaving the work place

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for your comment @Erica. It is really hard sometimes to find anyone else who is willing to stand up to the workplace bully. Most of the other employees are going to turn away from it because they don't want to get involved and they don't want to be the next victim. Or maybe they are a victim now but fear losing their job if they report the bully. Believe me, when there is a bully in the workplace, HR and everyone knows about it. What they do next would determine, at least for me, the course of action that needs to take place. If HR turns a blind eye on the harassment and bullying, it's time to go to an outside source and get the situation resolved. You should never have to leave a job because of a workplace bully.

  • Erica  T.
    Erica T.

    Unfortunately, in many cases, it's difficult to prove workplace bullying has occurred without a lot of evidence. Keeping a record of events, saving every email correspondence and finding out if other employees have been victimized can help when filing a complaint or when seeking legal counsel. I agree that people should find another job if the bullying persists - on the surface, this course of action may make it seem like the bully has won, but people have to look out for their emotional and physical well-being first and foremost.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Kristen not sure if that would actually constitute bullying if you are given a task that they know you can't complete. Maybe they just want to see what you do with it. Do you ask for assistance? Do you find a way to break the project down into manageable parts so that you have a fighting chance of completing it. Do you go back to your supervisor and explain where you in the process and maybe why you can not complete the task. @Jay if there is no HR in the company, you may have to go to an outside concern to get assistance. EEO might be able to assist. But you might just want to have a sitdown with the person who is bullying you and clear the air. I caution that you may want to take someone with you so that you don't encounter a she said/she said scenario. Your other option is to resign if that doesn't work. Sad to say but sometimes that's what it comes down to.

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    What if there is no human resources department at my place of work? A lot of smaller American companies don't have dedicated HR departments: instead, regular managers or the business owners themselves tackle hiring etc. What are my options if I'm being bullied and internal resources are not available to me?

  • Shaday Stewart
    Shaday Stewart

    Part of the problem is that the "hazing" mentality is built into some industries, and unrealistic expectations are a common feature of that kind of company/employee relationship. People who complain are seen as rocking the boat, and they simply don't have what it takes to make it in the business. It can be difficult to speak out in those situations or build a substantial case (even with dates and records) when the entire team collectively refutes all of your claims. It puts your credibility in question.

  • Kristen Jedrosko
    Kristen Jedrosko

    I agree with Kellen. setting unrealistic expectations for an employee really isn't necessarily a sign of bullying depending on what the intentions of the supervisor are. Sometimes supervisors will set expectations that they know could be achieved, but would require the employee to go above and beyond in order to see what their true abilities are. Of course there should not be any consequences if the employee does not reach the goal. If the supervisor presented the employee with consequences for not achieving a possibly unreachable goal, then absolutely it could be considered bullying. All in all, I think this point is circumstantial.

  • Kellen P.
    Kellen P.

    I don't think that setting unrealistic expectations for an employee is necessarily a sign that they are being bullied. It might just be that the manager is inexperienced and doesn't know any better. They might be getting bullied from their supervisor! I can see how this behavior might be interpreted as bullying, but I don't think that it's always the case. Of all the "signs" mentioned in the article, I think this one is the weakest.

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    @William, gossip can be considered bullying. I think someone reviewing your complaint or case would want to know how the gossip affected you. For example did a manager condone or initiate the gossip? Did co-workers start to avoid you or treat you differently because of the gossip? Did the gossip cause you emotional distress that impacted your job performance? As the article indicates, it's important to document everything to prove a pattern of discrimination or harassment.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    I think most of us have dealt with a workplace bully at one point in time. When I was in high school working at a truck stop, there were two older girls who would leave me to do all of their work while they did literally nothing. As an adult, I have dealt with workplace bullies many times. When I first started a job in a nursing home several years ago, I worked with a girl who would constantly point out every mistake that I made and tried to insinuate that I knew nothing. My own experiences have been relatively mild, and were nothing I couldn't fix on my own, but nonetheless, a workplace bully is aggravating. Knowing when you have a bully as opposed to a person who is simply irritating is key to handling the situation correctly.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    Does anyone else think that bullying occurs when everyone talks about you behind your back? I generally don't discuss my personal life at work. Work is work, and my personal life is no one else's business. However, my former supervisor once told me, "Well, you are a mystery." Then I found out that everyone at the office made conclusions about my personal life simply because I didn't tell anyone about it. I quit that job when it became too oppressive due to everyone deciding things for me without consulting me first.

  • Katharine M.
    Katharine M.

    I dealt with a bully a few years ago and so wish I had done more to address the situation. Her specialty was blaming me for not knowing things she had never told me. It was definitely one of those situations where I couldn't win with this woman. Wish I'd had this article at the time!

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for your comments. @Erin we can't stress enough how important it is to keep very detailed documentation. That is going to be the difference between seeing possible change in your company or things staying the same. If you go to your HR with a complaint about bullying but you don't have anything to back it up, there's not much HR can do. They can talk to the "bully" but then, as @Catherine mentioned, it becomes a case of he said he said. Document everything!

  • Erin H.
    Erin H.

    Catherine, I could not agree more. Many years ago, when this issue wasn't as popularized as it is now, I witnessed a lot of the bullying techniques that this article highlights. One co-worker literally make it her mission to undermine another and used some of the most dirty, underhanded techniques Ive seen yet. Thankfully, the victim was smart enough to document everything and filed a formal complaint. The complaint was ignored because at the time, the company was not motivated to investigate. Her lawyer helped them to see the error of that decision. She had very detailed documentation.


    Workplace harassment and violence is very serious and all too common. Everyone deserves to feel safe and secure in their work environment. For people who are being harassed or bullied, one important thing to do is document every encounter with the bully/bullies. Take screenshots of emails. Keep a record of the dates when incidents occur. This evidence is invaluable for when you need to go to your manager or HR and file a formal compliant. Without evidence, sometimes it's difficult to prove that you are being bullied and it becomes he said, she said.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Shannon any time there is bullying - any bullying - it needs to be reported. Someone using their authority or position without regards to the human cost needs to be reported. Too many of these bullies get away with this because we are afraid to report them. We have to ask ourselves why? Are we afraid of reprisal? It is truly sad that you had to resign from a position due to bullying. Can only hope that the bully got his comeuppance and is on the unemployment line!

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